04/16/2013 11:48 am ET

Firefighting Camp For Girls: Arlington Program Designed To Help Add More Women To Male Dominated Workforce

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The only thing better than this might be Space Camp. And that's still a maybe.

Helping to add some diversity to the testosterone laden world of firefighting, the Arlington County Fire Department is holding its first ever all girls summer camp.

From Arlington Now:

The Girls’ Fire Camp, a free overnight camp scheduled for July 12-14, is designed to give girls aged 13 to 16 a taste of the firefighter’s life. Participants will work out, run drills and learn skills — all under the close supervision of ACFD staff. The department’s recruiting officer, Capt. Brandon D. Jones, described the camp as a “fun-filled weekend” in which high school students will “learn how to stay in great shape” while performing basic firefighting and emergency medical tasks.

The camp, while not the first of its kind nationwide, is the first in the area.

According to the American Association of University Women, female firefighters account for only 3.7 percent of the workforce, making it one of the least common occupations for women.

According to Arlington Now, women make up only 9 percent of a 300-plus firefighting workforce in Arlington -- above the 6 percent national average, but still a distinctly low number.

The camp will focus on the business of firefighting, including general firefighter training -- using hoses, fire extinguishers, ladders and even eating dinner with one of the county firefighting crews.

But there is still room for fun. Jennifer Blade, a veteran firefighter and paramedic said that while the ultimate goal is to "put the possibility of becoming a firefighter on the front burner" for the girls who will participate in the event, but that even if that does not come to fruition, "hopefully they will talk to their friends about how much fun they had."

The camp, which will be housed at Marymount University, will be free for the 16 girls chosen to participate.

The ultimate goal of the camp is to help add more women to the firefighting force in Arlington, and Capt. Anne Marsh, a 15-year veteran of the force, believes that this is a great way to help recruit more women.

"The camp is a really great idea," Marsh told Arlington Now, because the Arlington department wants to "represent the general population."

Some germane history: Arlington's fire department is said to be the first in the country to have hired a woman in what the International Association of Women in Fire & Emergency Service calls "a strictly firefighting position":

Judith Livers (now Judith Brewer) was hired as a firefighter by the Arlington County, Virginia, Fire Department in 1974, becoming the first woman ever hired into a strictly firefighting position. Helping her firefighter husband study for his fire science classes, Livers learned about the devastation fire can cause, and was motivated to become a firefighter herself. She retired from Arlington County in late 1999, at the rank of battalion chief.

Many other women were in the fire service before 1974. The earliest were volunteer firefighters in urban and small-town settings, who date back to the 1800's at least. Molly Williams was the first known woman firefighter, an African-American woman held as a slave who worked on Oceanus Engine Company #11 in New York City in 1818. Women have also worked as fire lookouts since the early 1900's and, beginning in the mid-1970's, as seasonal firefighters in the wildland sector.


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