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Young Women's Fire Camp Empowers Teenage Girls

Amy Brenneman

A summer camp in Eugene teaches high school girls leadership skills, while they learn to fight fires.

On a five-acre drill field, that almost looks like a movie set from an action film, car frames and pallet piles are on fire.

Small groups of teenage girls are wearing firefighting uniforms and are putting out the controlled fires.

Training captain, Jean Woodrich, describes the scene.

Credit Amy Brenneman / KLCC
A group of campers put out a car fire.

“They’re putting out these car fires and each person has to take a turn on the nozzle, while the rest of their crew is helping them advance the hose and manage that,” says Woodrich.

This is the Young Women’s Fire Camp, put on by Eugene Springfield Fire. Though they are learning to fight fires and perform emergency medical services, the program’s main goal is to teach leadership skills and build confidence.

Heidi Carson, firefighter paramedic and camp mentor, says they want to empower their campers.

“We do it for teenage girls for a reason. Teenage girls, that’s typically the age where people develop self-confidence issues and they kind of develop a sense of what they may or may not be able to do it life,” says Carson. “So, at that age, we really want to show these girls that they can do anything.”

The week-long camp began nine years ago and allows young women ages 15 to 19 to participate.

Training chief, Matt Ennis, says part of the allure of the camp is all the hands-on activities they do, including climbing a hundred-foot ladder to the top of a building that they then repel from, performing water rescues and emergency medical services, and, of course, fighting live fires.

“That’s what kind of sets our camp apart in the bigger picture of camps,” says Ennis. “It’s something that the young ladies do an exceptionally good job at.”

Professional women from the community, including the mayor of Eugene, circuit court judges, and the first female paratrooper in the U.S., also come speak to the campers about what they do.

Credit Amy Brenneman / KLCC
Campers Brenda Torres Sanchez and Carina Lindsui.

Campers, Brenda Torres Sanchez and Carina Lindsui, describe their camp experience.

“I definitely feel like I’ve gotten more confident in myself throughout this experience. Just so much teamwork and everyone comes together as one,” says Torres Sanchez.

“I literally never would have repelled if it weren’t for this camp and that was my biggest fear on that day. I was like ‘I don’t know if I can do it,’ and then I did it,” says Lindsui. “Now I’m like maybe I’ll do technical rescue once I start volunteering. It’s been an amazing experience all together and I’ve definitely seen the transformation in my friends.”

Nearly every mentor said seeing their campers’ personal growth was the best part of the program. Again, Matt Ennis:

“Day one, they come in and they’re shy, timid, so forth,” says Ennis. “By the end of the week, when we have a graduation, they are confident, they can eat fire, they can take on the world.”

Amy Brenneman is the 2019 Snowden Intern. She began working in the KLCC News Room June 24, 2019. She recently graduated from University of Oregon with a major in journalism and a minor in anthropology. She loves radio so much, she even made her undergraduate thesis an audio story about paranormal tourism in the United States.
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