British Columbia

B.C. firefighting camp aims to get more women into fire service careers

Women currently make up about four per cent of the fire service in Canada. But a Vancouver-based camp for aspiring female firefighters is trying to change that.

Camp Ignite tested the limits of 34 female high school students from across the province last weekend

Women make up four per cent of firefighters across Canada and around three per cent in most Metro Vancouver communities, according to Camp Ignite organizers. (CBC News)

Women currently make up about four per cent of the fire service in Canada. But a Vancouver-based camp for aspiring female firefighters is trying to change that.

Camp Ignite started in 2011 with a small group of firefighters in Greater Vancouver hoping to get more young women interested in the profession. 

Now in its 11th year, Camp Ignite hosted 34 participants, its largest cohort, yet last weekend. 

The program consists of several stations that campers rotate through over the two day event. Putting out car fires, smashing glass and extricating oneself from tangled wires are just a few of the skills that participants practised. 

City of Vancouver Fire Chief Karen Fry said Camp Ignite is designed to challenge the girls and build confidence. 

"Anybody can do this job. It's not just predominantly made for men. Women bring a lot of skills and they just need an opportunity to see other women doing that job and to realize inside themselves that they can do it as well," said Fry.

Jorja Hoffman, 16, is pictured at Camp Ignite in Vancouver on Aug. 14. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

Sixteen-year-old Jorja Hoffman was excited to participate in Camp Ignite this year. Growing up around firefighters, including her uncle and family friends, Hoffman hopes that the fire service is where her future leads.

Hoffman said she learned a lot from camp, but her biggest takeaway was the importance of teamwork. 

"The hoses were really heavy, all the tools were heavy, so it's been challenging but it's been really fun."

'You realize the limitlessness of your potential'

Debra Rogers, one of the organizers of Camp Ignite and Campbell River's first and only female firefighter, said some former campers from the early days of the program are currently in paid, on-call roles and even in career positions. 

She noted that women bring a unique skill set to the service, including different approaches to problem solving. 

The four-day-long overnight camp has been limited to a two-day event for the past two summers due to COVID. (CBC News)

This year's participants included athletes from across the province, two black belts and an all-star cheerleader, according to Rogers. 

"We have some incredible athletic young women who want to be challenged in their life and they want to do something that has meaning."

Camp Ignite is more than just a few days spent learning new skills, explained Rogers. It is the beginning of an ongoing mentorship program and support network. Participants often come back in the following years in different roles, including as peer mentors and as aspiring firefighters. 

With 34 campers, 2021 saw Camp Ignite's largest cohort yet. (CBC News)

"Anytime you get an opportunity to challenge yourself… you realize the limitlessness of your potential."

Although being a woman in the industry comes with challenges, Fry said that the fire service has changed for the better over the 22 years that she has been in it. 

"About 20 years ago, I could count on one hand the number of women in the fire service … now we're seeing handfuls of them.

While the program usually consists of a four day-long overnight camp, it has been limited to a two day event for the past two summers due to COVID-19.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Michelle Gomez is a CBC Reporter in Vancouver. You can contact her at michelle.gomez@cbc.ca.

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