This past June, STU alumna Julie Downey ’06, made history. Downey, who has served more than three decades as a firefighter, was promoted by the town of Davie as fire chief – becoming the first female fire rescue chief in Broward County history. She received her Bachelor of Arts degree in organizational leadership from STU, and credits the university for its leadership-focused courses, accessibility and flexibility.
Downey, born and raised in Broward County, recently discussed with STU the importance of education, and why she choose to get her bachelor’s degree at STU. For the complete interview, read below.
What brought you to STU?
The flexibility of its educational programs for working professionals. STU was the best fit for us (other firefighters at her station) by having the classes taught online and at the station. Instead of us having to go to STU, STU came to us.
How convenient was it for you to have STU come to the station and offer these classes?
In my field, it’s difficult to make time to go to campus for classes, so having STU come to our work site was a definite advantage. It made it easier to have a full-time career, be a full-time mom, run the house, and go to school. It just couldn’t have happened without the flexibility STU offered.
How did your experience at STU shape you into the leader you are today?
The classes we took incorporated many aspects of leadership, that, combined with the knowledge of the instructors all came together to and helped the class hone their leadership skills.
What advice or insight do you have for STU students/alumni interested in a career in firefighting?
Never stop learning. Education is a lifelong experience, and if you’re pursuing your dreams in this field, or any field, you have to continue learning. Firefighting, in particular, takes a lot of schooling.
Any advice for current students juggling full-time jobs and school?
Trying to juggle going to work full time, going to school full time, parenting, and running a household is difficult, but manageable. You have to set priorities, be organized, and be relentless in what you want to accomplish.
Did you always want to be a firefighter?
When I was 14, I was a cadet at the fire department, but when I got older I journeyed into Physical Therapy, and halfway through, I realized it just wasn’t for me. Then I switched gears, became a firefighter, and went on to earn my paramedic certification, associates in fire science, emergency medical services, and nursing. Received my bachelor’s degree in organizational leadership from STU, and now I’m looking into my masters. Like I said before, education is a lifelong experience.
Chief Downey with her family.
What is your proudest accomplishment?
Watching my two daughters grow up and accomplish their goals. My oldest just graduated from nurse practitioner school, and my other daughter is in her last year of law school. And, of course, for myself, becoming fire chief.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
Watching the individuals on my team develop and grow into stronger leaders.
What has been the most challenging and most rewarding part of being the first female Fire Chief in Broward County?
I recognized the fact that I’m the first female fire chief in Miami-Dade, Broward and Monroe County, but it doesn’t matter to me if you’re male or female, I just want to do the best that I can. Be fair, consistent, and serve my residents the best I can. I work with a great team of people, and together we make an amazing fire department.
What do you do when you’re not improving the safety of Davie’s residents?
This job is a 24/7 job, but when I’m not here I like to travel, spend time with my daughters, and husband, who is also in the fire service, and participate in outdoor activities. Our new hobby is pickle ball, a sport that combines the elements of tennis, ping-pong and badminton.
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