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ACFD Aims to Find Next Generation of Female Firefighters with ‘Camp Heat’

Over the past four days (July 19-22), Arlington County Fire Department’s Camp Heat provided girls ages 15-18 with a free-of-charge inside look at a career in the fire service.

Now in its fifth year, the program has hosted more than 80 campers. Participants this year came from Northern Virginia, Maryland and as far as Ohio to experience fire and emergency medical services simulations, physical training and team-building activities.

“A lot of the females [at ACFD] ended up doing this after going to school or doing other careers,” Capt. Sarah Marchegiani said. “They never really thought about it as a career just because socially, it’s not really something that we’re exposed to as little girls.”

Erin Schartiger, a junior mentor for Camp Heat, attended the program two summers ago. Now, she is a certified firefighter in her home city of Sterling.

Camp Heat “was what pushed me [to be] like, ‘oh yeah, this is definitely something I want to try, something I want to do,'” Schartiger said.

Across the country in 2016, about four percent of career firefighters were women, according to the National Fire Protection Association. In Arlington, that number stands around 10 percent.

So far, at least two former campers have applied in ACFD’s current hiring cycle. Though Marchegiani said she would love for all of the campers to become Arlington County firefighters, “that’s obviously not realistic.”

“In general, I hope they come out with a mindset that they can accomplish whatever they want if they work hard, they dream big and put in the effort and time,” Marchegiani said. “It’s really just all about empowering them to show them that they can achieve whatever they set their mind to.”

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