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Eugene summer camp trains next generation of female firefighters

 Three firefighters spray water on a burning vehicle.
Chrissy Ewald
Campers tackled vehicle fires in groups of three.

A summer camp in Eugene is training the next generation of female firefighters.

This is the eleventh year that Eugene-Springfield Fire’s Young Women’s Fire Camp has brought together a group of high school girls to get a taste of what it takes to be a firefighter. The campers learn to rappel buildings, navigate pitch-black mazes, fight fires—and also learn leadership, practice teamwork, and develop self-confidence.

On Thursday, teams of young women donned full fire turnout gear for one of their final exercises: putting out burning cars.

Firefighters stacked two shelled-out cars with wooden pallets in the middle of the training yard at Eugene’s Emergency Services Training Center.

When set alight, heat radiated across the asphalt, and columns of flame crackled out of the blown out windows.

The young firefighters hoisted neon hoses and blasted the cars with water until the fires died out, sending steam billowing up through the busted roofs of the wrecks.

A person dressed in firefighting gear kneels on the ground in front of a burning car.
Chrissy Ewald

Exercises like these have been the young women’s job, nine hours a day, for a week. Carly Desjarlais, a senior at Cottage Grove High School, said she’s done things at this camp that she would never have thought she could do.

“You just feel so accomplished because it’s all these things that you’re like, ‘No way I could do that!’” she said. “Like rappelling off the side of a building. I’m like, ‘No way I could do that.’ And then you just do it. It’s amazing.”

The camp has rules about how the girls can talk about themselves.

“‘I’m sorry’ is something that is widely overused for females in society. And so, we are not allowed to say sorry unless it’s something that we genuinely need to be sorry about,” Desjarlais said. “And then we can’t say ‘I can’t do that’ because it’s like, something we genuinely can do and we just don’t realize that we can do that.”

Hailey Cook, a junior at Thurston High School in Springfield, says she was able to add on to her knowledge from lifeguarding.

“We were taught, like, how to put a tube down into somebody’s lungs if they cannot get air themselves, and to get air in there,” she said. “We were taught how to put an IV in and all the medical stuff.”

Desjarlais and Cook both said the community they’ve formed, even over such a short time, is what makes learning what they do possible.

“Even just like, rappelling down the building, I was terrified,” Desjarlais said. “And there was just like, people down here cheering me on, and everybody, we’ve just built this community where we just like, cheer each other on and everybody feels, like, super safe and like it’s okay to make mistakes. And it’s really amazing.”

“We’ve just learned a lot about each other and a lot about team building because we’re all just like, ‘Oh, let’s do this!’ And we all have our strong suits,” said Cook. “And so it’s really amazing about it because it shows a lot of teamwork and team building.”

 Three firefighters walk away from the camera.
Chrissy Ewald

Not everybody here wants to become a firefighter, but many want to go into emergency services or a related field.

“We come from all different backgrounds, but we’re all coming together to support each other,” said Desjarlais. “It’s really cool.”

The program is free but competitive. Campers had to submit an application answering questions like who their heroes are and why they want to learn to firefight.

Armed with leadership skills, self-confidence, and of course fire hoses, there’s no telling what these young women will do.

Copyright 2023 KLCC

Chrissy Ewald is a freelance reporter for KLCC. She first reported for KLCC as the 2023 Snowden Intern.
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