Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service

Station Commander Recognised in New Year’s Honours

NIFRS Station Commander Karen McDowell has been awarded an MBE in the 2021 New Year’s Honours list.

SC McDowell has been awarded the prestigious honour for her services to fire and rescue and the LGBTQ community.  She has been recognised for her commitment to making Northern Ireland a safer place and being an ambassador for LGBTQ equality.

With over 27 years’ service in protecting our community, SC McDowell joined  the organisation in 1993 working in several posts across Eastern Area Command including leading a team of Trainers at NIFRS Training and Development Centre.  More recently Karen has played an important part in NIFRS response to COVID – 19 in providing health and welfare support to Firefighters in Northern Area Command and supporting in the delivery of new and innovative ways to enable the recruitment of Wholetime Firefighters to progress safely during the pandemic.

Karen is married to Linda, a Crew Commander in NIFRS. The couple have two children aged 17 and 20.  Over the past decade she has been instrumental in helping NIFRS enhance and develop support for LGBTQ colleagues.  From this experience she has been able to provide invaluable guidance to other organisations and is a continued and passionate advocate in these areas.  Her work has had far reaching benefits and she has advised and supported Health & Social Care Trust partners and the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland.

NIFRS Station Commander, Karen McDowell said:

“This is such an unbelievable honour to be awarded an MBE. I am both very surprised and deeply humbled by this.  The last 10 years have been an incredible journey and if I have helped make a difference to anyone facing similar challenges it has been a privilege to have had that opportunity.

“There is no doubt that I have the best job in the world but I could not be the person I am today or been able to make this small contribution to improving LGBTQ equality without the support of NIFRS, my colleagues, and the FBU, who have supported me both personally and professionally, and I would like to sincerely thank them for that.

“I know that this is an individual award but I would not have received it if it weren’t for the incredible work of the people around me both within NIFRS and the groups I work with outside the organisation in raising awareness of the challenges the LGBTQ community face, and it’s great to see that by working together huge strides are being made in this area.

“I would also like to thank my wife Linda and my 2 children Kerry and Ryan, who have supported me throughout my career and particularly over the last 10 years. They have been remarkable- they are my rock and I would not be the person I am today without them. Together as a family we share this honour.”

Northern Ireland Fire & Rescue Service Chief Fire & Rescue Officer, Michael Graham said:

“Karen is a strong, empathetic and admired role model in NIFRS and I would like to congratulate her on this distinguished and well deserved honour.

“Karen has brought great insight to the fire service family both locally and nationally in enhancing diversity and equality. She has been instrumental in helping us to build an inclusive and diverse organisation. Karen’s tenacious desire for equality and inclusion is an example to us all and we are proud of the positive difference she continues to make to her colleagues, our organisation and people she helps to keep safe in our community.”

NIFRS Chairperson, Ms Carmel McKinney, OBE said:

“On behalf of the NIFRS Board, I would like to send warm congratulations to Karen and her family on this esteemed and well deserved honour.  Karen is an inspiration to us all, using her journey to support others and make a positive difference in their lives.

“She has shared her own experience and personal insight to help organsiations to become more proactive in areas of equality and diversity.  She has supported and mentored many individuals to overcome their perceived fears of discrimination and isolation and talks openly from a position of authority, experience and compassion.

“She is an excellent ambassador for NIFRS and it is fitting that her contribution to public safety and equality and diversity has been recognised.”



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