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‘It was really eye opening’: 20 teen girls get firefighter training at week-long camp in Brant County, Ont.

Bethany Randall is only 17 years old, but she has been thinking about becoming a firefighter for some time.

“For the last couple of years I’ve been really interested in firefighting, and I’ve been looking at the school options for it,” Bethany told CBC News.

“I had a conversation with a family friend who was a firefighter for about 40 years, I believe, and just after speaking to him, it just felt like something that really interested me.”

Over the course of four days this week, Bethany got a chance to test whether or not being a firefighter is really for her.

She was one of 20 girls who participated in the inaugural Camp Phoenix, which is designed to simulate real-life scenarios in all areas of fire prevention and suppression, search and rescue, forcible entry, auto extrication, basic first aid — and more.

Camp Phoenix, organized by County of Brant Fire, aims “to discover, educate and empower the next generation of future female fire professionals.” The five-day camp ran from July 13-17 at the Cainsville Fire Station.

Bethany attended Camp Phoenix this week and got a chance to test if being a firefighter is really for her. (Submitted by Lisa Herbert)

It was “a little bit intimidating” at first, Bethany said, but there was “a lot of learning [and] a lot of knowledge.”

“It was really eye opening and just made me even more passionate about it,” she said.

Bethany especially enjoyed doing the exercises where there was smoke in the building.

“We had to wear masks, it’s hard to see [and] hard to hear. You just really had to rely on your teammates and work on your communication,” she said. “It just makes you think about the insane trust that the firefighters have in each other and in their captain.”

‘A male dominated profession’

Lisa Herbert, a County of Brant firefighter and one of the Camp Phoenix organizers, started talking with her fire chief a year ago about having the camp.

The idea for Camp Phoenix came from conversations Herbert has had with girls about firefighting as a career, since she became a firefighter three years ago.

Camp Phoenix participant Hailey Teichmann, left, and Lisa Herbert, right. Herbert is a County of Brant firefighter and one of the Camp Phoenix organizers. (Submitted by Lisa Herbert)

Some of the girls informed her that, when they consulted their high school guidance counselor, they were told firefighting is not a good job for them.

“It just helped me to realize that even though we’ve come a long way, we still have a gap to cover,” Herbert said.

“This camp really came out of a place of just trying to open up the eyes and ears of the girls in our area and our neighbourhoods, that it’s something for them to consider.”

Herbert, now 38, joined the profession when she was 35 years old, “because for 20 years I told myself that I shouldn’t do it and I couldn’t do it.”

When she was recruited, hundreds of people came out, she said. But only two of them were female — both of whom were hired.

“Obviously, the profession was a male dominated profession [for] forever and a day,” Hamilton said, noting that it started becoming more inclusive during the 1980s and 1990s.

But through her own research, Hamilton learned only about five per cent of career firefighters in Canada are women, she said.

“I just thought that was such a dramatic number,” she said.

“The fact that it wasn’t even an opportunity for young girls for so long really got to me,” she said.

Herbert is not advocating for an even ratio of female and male firefighters, but she does believe “the right person for the job should be doing it.”

Over the past week, she’s watched teenage girls, ranging in age from 14 to 18, “absolutely crushing everything” thrown their way, she said.

“It’s just been such an incredible, incredible experience.

Huge interest from both females and males

Camp organizers had set a goal of 20 campers, but Herbert says they received 50 applications.

“We’ve got some incredible, incredible people out here with us this week,” Herbert said. “We’re already working toward a [leadership] and training program for girls who want to come back in [future] years.”

Camp Phoenix organizers are excited about the next couple of years, she added.

The camp is still accepting donations that will go toward the costs of future camps, and being able to open up more spaces.

“We’d love to be able to increase the roster if we can,” Herbert said. “We’ve had a lot of requests for a cohort of male students, which we’d love to look into as well.”

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