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ACFD extends application deadline for youth firefighting camp

Teenagers can experience the life of an Arlington firefighter for a week.

Camp Heat, which aims to give teenagers a firsthand experience of being a firefighter, is now open for applications until June 30. Organized by the Arlington County Fire Department, the is scheduled to be held from Monday, July 18 to Friday, July 22, from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day.

The camp is free and open to those between 15 and 18 years old, regardless of gender, though the camp was originally intended as a way to get girls interested in a firefighting career.

A total of 26 applicants will be selected to join, according to the online application form. The application deadline was originally on May 30, but it was extended partly because the camp itself was delayed, said lead coordinator Kristin Pardiny.

“It was supposed to be held in June when we first started planning, and then down at our fire training academy, we have a whole lot going on,” Pardiny said. “We realized it was gonna be too much of a logistical concern in June, so we moved it to July.”

She also hoped that by extending the deadline, more people would have the opportunity to apply.

During the five days of the camp, participants are scheduled to meet with “dynamic female leaders” in the fire department, participate in physical trainings and emergency simulations, listen to a panel of women public employees, as well as “experiencing the everyday life of a firefighter/EMT,” according to the camp’s website. The campers are set to interact with other firefighters and perform tasks related to firefighting, according to the application form.

Those interested need to fill out the application and complete a medical and physical examination.

“We have them write a short answer question in our application and they are asked about why they are interested in the camp and what women’s empowerment means to them,” Pardiny said.

Although not compulsory, the fire department would also look at why applicants may want to become a firefighter in the future. Local and first-time applicants are prioritized, Pardiny noted.

The selected campers are expected to bring their own blue pants, black belt and safety boots as part of the uniform. Because of the pandemic, campers need to check their temperatures at 7 a.m. and 5 p.m. each day of the camp and wear masks during the activities.

The camp was founded in 2013 to spark teenage girls’ interest in becoming firefighters and was only open to girls originally. However, since 2021, the camp has been open to all genders.

This change happened because the fire department believed all genders “must be involved in [the] conversation” in fulfilling the camp’s mission to “encourage and empower young women,” said Pardiny.

“While we’re interested in recruiting and empowering more women to join the fire service, we also are interested in recruiting more progressive and open-minded men as well,” she said. “There are many ways in which people identify nowadays and we want to ensure that we’re not excluding anyone in the conversation.”

Since the founding of Camp Heat, around 100 teenagers have participated in it and Pardiny knows of two campers who applied to be Arlington firefighters as well as several who ultimately became EMTs.

Only around 8% of firefighters in the U.S. in 2019 were women, according to a National Fire Protection Association report. Currently, out of the 340 firefighting and other employees in ACFD, about 33 firefighters are women, said Pardiny.

“While we of course hope that some may consider a future career in the fire service and when they consider that career, if they consider that career, we want them to view Arlington County as a top choice,” she said. “A lot of young people in Arlington County haven’t quite been exposed to the fire service and some have just never considered it.”

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