Camp Fury empowers girls to consider firefighting, law enforcement careers
Through a partnership with the Girl Scouts of America, Camp Fury is igniting a passion for public safety and emergency services among young girls
It’s amazing – the power of a good idea.
In 2009, two Arizona fire training chiefs decided to create a camp to introduce girls to careers in fire and emergency services: Laura Baker was then-training chief for Tucson Fire and Cheryl Horvath was with Northwest Fire-Rescue. With the help of grant funding, the chiefs created Camp Fury (the first year called “Fire Camp”), which served 14 high school-aged girls that first year.
Fast forward to 2023 and Camp Fury is still going strong, having served hundreds of girls across the country who are interested in careers within emergency response and law enforcement.
First Camp Blaze, then Camp Fury
Camp Fury is not the first girls’ fire camp in the United States. Camp Blaze, founded in 1999 by an independent nonprofit organization now based in Seattle, continues to provide annual programs for girls interested in the emergency services. According to Horvath, Camp Blaze served as an inspiration for Camp Fury.
Following its founding in 2009, early camps focused on firefighting, but Camp Fury expanded its reach after a couple years to include activities and instruction in law enforcement as well.
Camps can run from one day to one week, depending on the focus of participants and the sponsoring agency. For example, a program called “Catching Fire,” aimed at middle school-aged girls, is a one-day feeder program for the longer Camp Fury offerings.
Camp Fury’s goal, Horvath said, is for the majority of girls to attend on scholarship: “Our mission has always been for any girl that wants to attend Camp Fury, can attend Camp Fury.”
Instructors and staff at Camp Fury are largely comprised of local volunteers.
“We reach out to public safety, fire departments and police departments and ask them to spread the word with women who are on their department,” Horvath said. “We always encourage chiefs, if they want to invest in the program, to allow women on their departments to be assigned to Camp Fury for the week.”
Partnering with the Girl Scouts of America
What makes Camp Fury unique is its partnership with the Girl Scouts of America (GSA), which has sponsored the camps since 2010.
Originally hosted by the Girl Scouts of Southern Arizona, the first camps took place in Tucson and Yuma, but have since expanded to include events across the United States, including a recent camp in southern Illinois. Campers do not need to be Girls Scouts to participate, Horvath noted.
Fostering an affiliation with GSA has allowed Camp Fury to achieve a level of sustainability that might not otherwise be possible. Similar camps in the past were often canceled because of budget cuts within an individual department – a fate Camp Fury founders wanted to avoid.
“That was one of our motivations to partner with the Girl Scouts, to have a sense of independence to it,” Horvath said.
Camp Fury’s impact on communities
Participation in Camp Fury has had an immediate and deep impact on the lives of the girls in the program, as well as the communities they live in, Horvath said.
“One of the things we started doing early on was teaching the girls compression-only CPR,” Horvath said. “We were among the first to embrace that training in Arizona. Since we’ve done that, we’ve had five actual saves due to the intervention of girls who graduated from Camp Fury.”
After the first Kansas City Camp Fury last year, two participants immediately pursued careers in the fire service and are in the process of completing their academies now, Horvath said, and a St. Louis camp attendee recently became a full-time law enforcement officer.
On an individual level, the camps seek to promote “courage, confidence and character” among participants. The camps offer a wide variety of challenges such as rappelling, climbing 100-foot aerial ladders, going through defensive tactics and shooting simulators.
“Just to see the growth in the girls that participate; it’s palpable,” Horvath said. “After five days, frequently the parents will say, ‘I don’t even recognize my daughter. Her whole attitude is different from when I dropped her off five days ago.’”
The impact of the camps reaches beyond just the girls who come as campers. Horvath highlighted the value of networking for the men and women who participate in any aspect of the camp.
“When you have the chance to work side-by-side with folks for a few days and really get to know them, it just builds community,” she said.
Expansion of fire camps
Camp Fury and similar fire camps are gaining momentum across the country. The IAFC is currently in the process of using grant funding to develop a fire camp guide. Any department that wants to create a local camp will be able to access the guide as well as advice from those on the development team.
“I can’t remember a summer when we’ve seen this many camps happening,” Horvath said. “You’re definitely seeing more conversation, more interest and more momentum in terms of putting on these programs.”
Horvath considers herself a “lifelong volunteer” of Camp Fury and emphasized her commitment to seeing women grow in leadership roles in the fire service: “I hope as these young gals come in, they can make an impact.”
For more information about Camp Fury, contact Cheryl Horvath at email@example.com.