When Airdrie firefighter Dawn Lucey received the provincial Queen Elizabeth II's Platinum Jubilee Medal yesterday during an event hosted by the Alberta Professional Fire Fighters & Paramedics Association (APFFPA) in Edmonton, she was adamant that the medal was a reflection of more than just her individual achievements.
"It's a reflection on the commitment and the dedication of the team that I work with each and every day at the fire department," Lucey said. "I kept joking that I'm getting this award, but it's because of all the work that people around me do, to make me look good."
When she received the call from the President of the APFFPA, Matt Osborne, two weeks ago, letting her know she was a recipient of the medal, she said it was both humbling and incredibly exciting. Lucey, who has been a firefighter for nearly three decades and has served Airdrie's community for 17 years, is the Platoon Chief of the Charlie Platoon in Airdrie's Fire Department.
She was chosen for the award, which is meant to honour and celebrate those who made a significant contribution to Canada, Alberta, or to a particular Alberta region or community not only because of her dedicated work as a firefighter but as a firefighter who has spearheaded mental health wellness and advocacy. Lucey is a part of the Airdrie Fire Department's peer support team, work that she says is near and dear to her heart.
"As first responders, I think we work in a really fast-paced and stressful environment and as such, I think it's really important that we're attentive to our mental health and wellness needs," she said. "The peer support team in Airdrie has worked really diligently to destigmatize the perception associated with mental health struggles."
During the presentation in Edmonton, Lucey said that it was an unforgettable experience, not just in receiving the medal, but also being a part of a larger group of first responders who are also role models in their field.
"I got to stand up with so many incredible firefighters from all across the province, who obviously were leaders and had done a lot to improve things for their members, for their departments, and in their communities. I felt so honoured to be kind of amongst that group."
Reflecting back on when she first began her career, she admitted that mental health was not a topic openly discussed among first responders, much less admitting as a first responder that one needed to seek out professional help to tackle their mental health issues. While there has been a shift in the culture around addressing mental health struggles, Lucey said there is still work to be done to continue having open and honest conversations about mental health.
"I always tell my guys that if you broke your leg tomorrow, you would never hesitate to go see a physician to go get help; yet at the same time when our mental health has suffered a trauma, [there is a] hesitancy to reach out and seek to help and that is changing. I believe that's changing in our profession," Lucey said. "We're getting better at recognizing that we need to be healthy as a whole."
Though Lucey said she could never see herself in any other career path and would have chosen to become a firefighter if she could turn back the clock, all the same, she originally studied zoology. Unsure of the work, but very sure she wanted to pursue something in the medical field, it wasn't until her brother-in-law, who himself is a firefighter in Strathcona County (soon to be retired), who observed Lucey had the makings of a truly great first responder.
At the very beginning of her service, she would join the Fort McMurray Fire Department and served the community there for 10 years. When Lucey began her firefighting career, she observed she was the second female firefighter in service, though the team and leadership she worked with were not only accepting but very forward-thinking. Though firefighting still sees men dominate the field, Lucey said that things are changing on that front too.
"I believe the acceptance of females in the profession has improved drastically, even in the last 10 to 15 years."
Lucey also reflected that while many firefighters are oft asked to reflect on one major incident that they attended which was impactful, she contended that in her career there isn't a singular event that she can single out as monumental; because it is the sum of all those events that have the most impact.
"When people call us it's one of the worst moments of their lives or a really bad moment or a really big crisis moment; and the fact that we're able to go in and provide support; that's really where the satisfaction from the job comes."
However, Lucey, not one to favour individualism, said that at the end of the day, she is blessed because has two families, both of whom she loves dearly.
"The fire department is my second family, which is [an] incredibly rewarding. My fire department family is just as close and just as supportive as my primary family," Lucey said. "I love being a firefighter. I love what I do. I love the people I work with and I love serving and helping the community."
Send your news tips, story ideas, pictures, and videos to firstname.lastname@example.org