For every fire department, there are pivotal events in the cultural transformation of a fire department that propel growth that seemed previously unimaginable. The courage of Firefighter Josie Downes created one of those moments of necessary change for the Calgary Fire Department. Similar to other fire services across Canada, Calgary Fire’s workforce of 1500 has very few openly LGBTQIA2S+ members. For the first four years of with Calgary, Josie was living her life at work as a closeted transgender woman. She faced an internal battle with dysphoria coupled with elements of a toxically masculine environment which could only be endured for so long. With the support of the Calgary Fire Department’s Respect and Inclusion section and the Senior Leadership team, Josie made the bold and brave choice to come out as transgender and begin presenting as female in the workplace in 2021.
Josie’s willingness to come out about her identity and experiences has been incredibly positive and uplifting for the department. Josie has offered judgement-free discussion about the transgender community with her colleagues with a focus on educating and promoting awareness and acceptance. Her patience and openness allowed co-workers to gain perspective and sparked a wave of progress across the Calgary Fire Department. She strategically and tactfully harnessed her eloquence and experience as an educator to deepen understanding and acknowledgement of transgender people in the Calgary Fire Department. Josie’s courage has positively influenced the City of Calgary’s workforce and has positively changed the direction of the Calgary Fire Department now and into the future.
Since coming out, Josie has accepted a key role in Calgary’s Fire Sisters Youth Camp to better engage and serve a more diverse population. Recently, she was successfully in winning a promotion to Training Officer where she inspires a new generation of firefighters to be themselves. Josie continues to represent the Calgary Fire Department as an organization that values empathy and cultural growth and recognizes the benefits of a diverse and inclusive workforce.
FSWO wishes to recognize and thank Josie Downes for her courage, passion and commitment to promote the advancement of transgender members in a more diversified and inclusive fire service. We are pleased to award her the Pink Helmet of Courage Award. Congratulations.
Nominator: Chief Deb Bergeson