London, Ont. - It's no ordinary week of camp.
But for 20 young women in London, repelling from the roof of a building and using the Jaws of Life extrication equipment is all in a day’s work.
Camp FFIT — it stands for female firefighters in training — began in London this week, encouraging 15- to 18-year-old girls to consider a career in fire services.
“Typically women who want to choose active careers gravitate towards becoming a police officer, or a personal trainer. But we’re trying to show them that firefighting could be a viable career option for them,” said Allison Vickerd, a London firefighter leading the camp.
By all accounts, the camp is succeeding.
“I definitely do want to be a firefighter — this has definitely secured my (decision),” said 17-year-old Lydia Heuving.
Only nine London firefighters who put out flames are women, a mere 2% of the department’s 365 employees, although there are many more women dispatchers, prevention experts and administrators.
While national numbers aren’t collected, one thing is clear: Women firefighters remain a rarity.
Camp FFIT can make a difference. It started in Ottawa in 2010, and nearly half of past participants applied to become volunteer and career firefighters, or enrolled in local fire education programs.
“There’s no question it’s helped our recruitment,” said Ottawa Fire Chief John de Hooge, an executive member of the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs.
The program also helps to bolster self-esteem, particularly for women faced with the physical and strength demands of the job.
“We all have to meet the same standards, and to say that a woman couldn’t or shouldn’t is completely unfair,” de Hooge said.
While participants learn about fire safety and developing confidence in their strength and abilities, they also have a great time.
“We did auto extractions, we punched out windows,” Heuving said. “The day’s honestly just been the greatest — same with the whole week.”