Girls on fire: Camps help females prep for firefighter jobs
The girls learn how to use a fire extinguisher, how to handle a powerful fire hose and how to do water rescues, among other critical skills
By Mark Pratt
ASHLAND, Mass. — Firefighting is largely a man's world, but one suburban Boston firefighter is among a few women trying to change that.
Ashland fire Lt. Lyn Moraghan founded Camp Bailout for girls in 2011 to give them a feel for what a firefighting career entails and to provide mentoring and guidance from other women, something she never really had early in her 22-year career.
Only about 7 percent of U.S. firefighters were women as of 2014, the latest year for which data are available, according to a study published by the Quincy, Massachusetts-based National Fire Protection Association.
To change that, a small but growing number of girls' firefighting camps have been cropping up, said Kim Cox, executive director of the International Association of Women in Fire and Emergency Services. The organization lists eight all-girls camps on its website, though Cox estimates there are another half dozen or so more.
The girls at Camp Bailout don't go running into burning buildings, but they do learn how to use a fire extinguisher, how to handle a powerful fire hose and how to do water rescues, among other critical skills. They hear from other women — not just firefighters but also police officers, nurses and medical helicopter pilots. They even learn about a firefighter's lifestyle, the 24-hour shifts, time away from family and the training.
Although Moraghan has had as many as 26 girls at the camp in the past, some still in middle school, she limited it to 10 high-school-age girls this year. The day camp is free, funded by a grant from Ashland, a town of 16,500 about 20 miles west of Boston.
They wasted little time Monday on the first day of the weeklong camp, donning protective gear and tackling straw and propane fires with fire extinguishers as their instructors shouted encouragement.
Carly Falone, 18, attended the first Camp Bailout and is back this year as a counselor.
Falone, whose father is a firefighter in neighboring Framingham, started in Ashland's Fire Service Exploring program, where she was the only girl.
"It was a little intimidating at first," she said. "I was unsure if I belonged. But that just motivated me to go harder and show I am just as good as the boys." The recent high school graduate plans on earning her emergency medical technician certification and taking some college-level fire science classes as she pursues a firefighting career.
Tara Sivak, 15, is attending Camp Bailout for the first time.
"I just love helping people and just doing hands-on activities," she said. "So when my mom saw a news article about this, she thought it would interest me. I love it."
Moraghan, 48, got into firefighting almost by accident. After earning her emergency medical technician license, she knocked on the door of the Ashland Fire Department one day and asked if there were any job openings. She was hired part time in 1994. In 1997, she was hired as the town's first full-time female firefighter after graduating from the state firefighting academy.
All-girl camps are essential to build and maintain the number of women in firefighting, said Laura Baker, a past president of the International Association of Women in Firefighting and Emergency Services.
The first assistant chief in the history of the Tucson (Arizona) Fire Department helped start a firefighting camp for girls called Camp Fury, which has partnered with the Girl Scouts to promote leadership skills.
"Women bring a unique and different skill set to the fire service," Baker said. "Ninety percent of what we do is emergency medical services, which is a great fit for women and the natural motherly instincts and compassion women can provide."
Falone, the Camp Bailout counselor, said the most important lesson she has learned is teamwork.
"I'm wicked independent, but I have learned that you can't do this job alone."