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Camp Ignite helps young women pursue firefighting careers

Campbell River firefighter helps organize yearly event

Only about four per cent of firefighters worldwide are women, but a B.C. summer camp is looking to change that.

Camp Ignite is a camp for young women who are interested in getting in to firefighting. Going into its 11th year, the goal of the camp is to help young women in grades 11 and 12 who might be interested in firefighting get a taste of what it’s like and learn some basic skills.

“It’s important that we represent the diversity in the communities that we serve,” said Campbell River firefighter Debra Rogers, who also works as communications and correspondence coordinator for Camp Ignite. “I think women have a lot to bring to the table. It’s not just brute strength anymore. We do a lot of medical calls, there’s cultural issues that need to be addressed that sometimes women can better address, especially in larger centres.”

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“It’s important to have the diversity — whether that means women or other minority representation,” she added. “That’s the world we live in and I think that all public service should represent that diversity.”

Campbell River fire chief Thomas Doherty agrees: “It’s great to create some more diversity,” he said.

“It’s well known that there’s not a lot of females in the fire service, particularly in the suppression side of things. I think bringing that awareness up and getting the interest out to the younger groups to let them know that there are options out there and career paths,” Doherty continued. “We want to make sure that we give them all the right tools to guide them into what they’re interested in doing.”

The camp started as a mentorship idea just over a decade ago, and expanded over time to be a four-day camp. Things have had to be cut back a bit this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but they are still able to provide a few days of education.

Besides the basic skills like SCBA (Self Contained Breathing Apparatus) knowledge, auto extrication and fire extinguishing techniques, the campers also get to meet women who are already a part of the industry and build connections for their future.

“The idea is that if they have any ambitions to go in that area they could get a sense of what might be required, and they get to see women doing that work and talk to them about the challenges they face in terms of integrating in to a non-traditional role,” Rogers explained. “They get to see women who came in in the early days, women who came in recently and talk about the shift of the mentality and tolerance for women in the role and the way the job has changed over time.

“Certainly, firefighting isn’t what it was 40 years ago. What are those new expectations, what does the new landscape look like and what are the variety of opportunities?”

This year’s camp will be on Aug. 14 and 15 in Vancouver. Applications will be accepted until June 1.

“When young girls apply, we link them with their local fire department… and they get sent to camp on that fire department’s dime as somewhat of a representative of their region. That’s how we make it accessible to young women who may not be able to participate,” Rogers explained.

More information on Camp Ignite is available at their website.

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