Girls firefighter camp expanded a week after being canceled over discrimination
“This is an important camp that ... exposes many of them to a career opportunity they may not have considered," Mayor Kevin Faulconer said
Dig deeper into the issue of girls' fire camps and their potential value in an analysis by FireRescue1 Editorial Board member Linda Willing: "Girls' fire camps: Discrimination, or key to increasing female firefighters?"
By Karen Kucher
The San Diego Union-Tribune
SAN DIEGO — San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer has directed the reinstatement of the city’s Girls’ Empowerment Camp, an event that had been canceled last week after an attorney questioned whether its gender-focused approach violated state and federal anti-discrimination statutes.
The event will be expanded to two weekends — one in April and one in May -- and registration will be reopened.
“We made a commitment to hundreds of kids and their families and we are going to stand by that,” Faulconer said in a statement. “This is an important camp that teaches kids what it’s like to be a firefighter and exposes many of them to a career opportunity they may not have considered previously.”
The change of direction came a week after the city fire department and the nonprofit San Diego Fire-Rescue Foundation pulled the plug on the event. Organizers said City Attorney Mara Elliott’s office had recommended they cancel it.
However, a spokeswoman for the City Attorney’s Office said it had told the foundation that city resources could not be used for the event due to its gender-specific nature — but that they had not recommended it be canceled.
On Feb. 22, attorney Al Rava sent a letter to Elliott saying that hosting a “no-boys-allowed” camp violated several California and federal anti-discrimination statutes, including the state and U.S. constitutions. He asked the city to reschedule the event and invite boys and girls.
“Everyone should be treated equally, no matter their sex — especially by the City of San Diego," Rava wrote.
The next day, Gerry Braun, Elliott’s chief of staff, sent Rava a two-sentence reply: “Our office is in receipt of your February 22, 2018, letter. The event has been canceled.”
Nothing about the camp has been changed from its original design other than making it “more clear” that the event is open to girls and boys, Greg Block, a Faulconer spokesman, said on Tuesday.
“It was canceled because there was a letter from a lawyer who raised some concerns. So we took a look at things and decided we needed to move it forward because it is a good thing,” Block said. “It is giving a lot of kids some really good opportunities and it in particular is helping girls to be introduced to a profession where women are underrepresented.”
Campers get hands-on training with firefighting equipment, including a chain saw and a 110-foot-tall aerial ladder. They also learn how to perform CPR and how to use an external defibrillator. Organizers say they hope the camp will encourage girls to consider firefighting and other public safety careers in the future.
Block said the city has “no concerns” about being sued over the program, which was offered for the first time in 2017.
“We made it more clear that this is open to everybody. Boys are more than welcomed and invited and encouraged to participate,” Block said.
Block also said nobody was ever denied entry to the camp. In his letter, Rava claimed his client had applied to have his 17-year-old son attend the camp. Rava said his client never heard back from foundation officials when he was unable to register his boy.
Rava, who learned of the city’s decision from a reporter, said his client and others will be “thrilled to learn the city has opened the camp to all children, no matter their gender.” He said the city’s announcement also should satisfy others concerned about the issue who reportedly were pondering legal action.
The camp, which is held at the San Diego Fire Department’s training facility, is now scheduled to take place April 14-15 and May 19-20.
Officials said families who previously registered will have first choice of which weekend to participate. Registration information can be found at http://sdfirerescue.org/gec/