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Girls from 30 Calif. high schools attend hands-on fire camp

The HERo’s Girl’s Fire Camp in Solano County empowers young women to consider a career in fire, EMS

By Lynzie Lowe
The Reporter

SOLANO COUNTY, Calif. — As young women made their way around opening day of the Golden State Women in Fire Service’s first-ever HERo’s Girl’s Fire Camp in Solano County on Saturday, there was one overwhelming consensus:

“This is so cool.”

While both boys and girls are welcome to attend the camp, the event is marketed for girls, who historically tend to get overlooked when physically demanding or craftsmanship skills are being taught. This, officials say, deters many girls away from careers such as firefighting.

[PREVIOUSLY: Calif. fire camp introduces young women to fire service careers]

“Our program is designed to empower young women through firefighting skills,” said Erika Enslin, Founder and President of the non-profit organization, and newly retired Captain of the Sacramento Fire Department. “Our camps are led by all professional women firefighters from around the region to show the girls women can and are doing the job. Girls often still get told they can’t do hard things and we are here to show them they can.”

Courtney Hughes-Plocher, Secretary/Treasurer for the Golden State Women in Fire Service and Firefighter/Paramedic for the City of Vacaville Fire Department, said they hope to empower camp attendees and show them they that they can do anything they put their minds to, if they just get out there and do it.

Candice Koshman, Engineer for the Oakland Fire Department and volunteer instructor for the camp, said she volunteers her time because camps like this were not available to young girls when she was growing up. She feels it is important to provide this to the next generation.

“When we go to work, all we see is death and destruction,” said Koshman. “This is also my mental health rehabilitation. In addition to teaching all of the kids, we have such great camaraderie with all of the other women from the other departments.”

Koshman also said that being in teaching mode for eight hours a day for the duration of the camp allows all of the volunteers to hone their own skills.

“It’s amazing to watch the professional growth as well,” said Koshman. “Being on a chainsaw for eight hours, you are definitely going to be building on your skills in a way that you would not get the opportunity to while at work.”

Enslin said Saturday’s rain caused camp organizers to switch up the schedule of events for the safety of campers. A full day of training was still held, including hose handling, auto extraction, CPR and stop the bleed training, small tools training and more.

According to Enslin, 42 high-school-aged girls from 30 Solano County schools attended the two-day camp, which will continue Sunday. Nearly 30 volunteer professional women firefighters from across California attended the event as well, with some coming from as far away as Washington state and Connecticut to volunteer their time.

Payon De Herrara, 18, of Vacaville, said she signed up for the camp because her dad has had a long career in fire service and was recently promoted to captain.

“I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to see if I would like that career path as well,” said De Herrara.

Prior to attending this weekend’s camp, De Herrara said she was debating whether to pursue a career in fire service or to become a game warden, but her experience on Saturday had her leaning toward pursuing a career with Cal Fire.

Avalon Ramos, 16, of Vacaville, also used this opportunity to explore future career opportunities. She said she would like to work in the medical field in some capacity in the future, and since her family works in fire service, she thought this could be one option for her.

“I have loved it,” said Ramos. “It has been really fun and it is nice that it is free so people that don’t have a lot of money still have the opportunity to learn and participate.”

Kaylie Camara, 16, of Fairfield, said she was already a Fire Explorer for Suisun City when she decided to sign up for this camp but she wanted to expand her skills because she hopes to one day become a firefighter and EMT.

While she has had some experience with the trainings she has been doing during camp, the organizers and other campers have made the experience that much better because they all had her feel safe when the nerves do start to creep up.

Overweeningly, most campers said on the first day that the car extraction was their favorite activity, which Enslin said is common, but they still have another full day of training ahead of them to decide what they like best.

According to Enslin, the camp was funded through a joint effort by the Vacaville Fire Department and the Fairfield Fire Department, with generous donations also made by the Vacaville City Firefighters Charity Fund, the Oakland Fire Department and the Fairfield Fire Department’s management unit.

Sunday’s schedule includes ladder exercise, including climbing the 105-foot aerial ladder on top of the fire truck, chainsaws, a physical agility course, and more hose and small tool training.

At the end of the day, all of the campers will participate in a showcase where they will demonstrate all that they have learned during the two-day camp to their parents, who are invited to come and watch.

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