An innovative summer camp could spark new career ambitions among high school-aged girls in Arlington who feel up for a challenge. Long term, it could also help the Arlington County Fire Department meet its goal of recruiting more female firefighters.
The Girls’ Fire Camp, a free overnight camp scheduled for July 12-14, is designed to give girls aged 13 to 16 a taste of the firefighter’s life. Participants will work out, run drills and learn skills — all under the close supervision of ACFD staff. The department’s recruiting officer, Capt. Brandon D. Jones, described the camp as a “fun-filled weekend” in which high school students will “learn how to stay in great shape” while performing basic firefighting and emergency medical tasks.
“The department hopes to make a long-term connection with the participants,” Jones said. “After they attend this camp, some may be inspired to continue their ambition to become a Firefighter/EMT in the future.”
Though Arlington was the first fire department in the country to hire a female professional firefighter, in 1974, it has struggled like other departments nationwide to recruit women for the traditionally male profession. Currently, females comprise about 9 percent of the 300-plus member Arlington department. Nationwide, only about 6 percent of firefighters are women.
As recruiters get more creative in their quest for diversity, fire camps for high school girls have proliferated. Since the Tucson Fire Department joined with the neighboring Northwest Fire/Rescue District to open its inaugural Camp Fury for girls in 2009, other jurisdictions have followed suit. The Ashland Fire Department in Massachusetts runs a Camp Bailout, the New Hampshire State Fire Academy runs a Camp Fully Involved and the Utica Fire Academy in New York offers the Phoenix Firecamp.
“The camp is a really great idea,” said Capt. Anne Marsh, an EMS supervisor and 15-year veteran of the Arlington department. “We want our department to represent the general population. So many people come into the fire department as part of a family legacy, and women have simply not had as many role models to follow.”
Campers will spend the two nights, with chaperones, at Marymount University. During the days, they will participate in activities that include physical training, a fire extinguisher class, hose drills and an aerial ladder demonstration. They will tour the Arlington fire stations and, treat of treats, dine with the on-duty crews.
“The idea is to put the possibility of becoming a firefighter on the front burner for them,” said Arlington firefighter/paramedic Jennifer Slade, a seven-year veteran of the department, “but we’re also trying to incorporate fun into it, so it’s not just learning.”
“Even if they don’t go into the field,” Slade added, “hopefully they will talk to their friends about how much fun they had.”
The camp is limited to 16 participants, who must fill out an application that includes an essay. Those interested can call 703-228-0098 or visit the camp’s web page for more information.
Photos via Arlington County. Michael Doyle is a journalist and Arlington resident. He is a member of the Cherrydale Volunteer Fire Department.