'Strong, positive female role models' female firefighter camp hosing down perceptions

An all-women fire skills camp aims to hose down the public's perception of female firefighters in London.

Fire skills camp gives women hands on training from senior firefighters

Twenty young women take part in a five day fire skills camp hosted by the London Fire Department. (Chris Ensing/CBC)

An all-women fire skills camp aims to douse the public's perception of female firefighters in London. 

Twenty young women are spending five days dressed in bunker gear attacking open flames – and the notion that women aren't fit to be firefighters. 

"We don't want young ladies to be discouraged," said Allison Vickerd, a 15-year veteran firefighter with the London Fire Department.  

"It used to be that we were told that we can't be firefighters simply because we are women," she said. "That whole opinion is now edging its way out of the fire service and now we need to change the public's opinion." 

Vickerd said she uses the week-long camp as a way to mentor young firefighters based on her experiences. 

"Year one, there was an intimidation factor," she told CBC News. "But I was told very early on to keep my head down and work really hard and that's what I want to pass on to these participents."

Learning the career ladder

Courtney Bell signed up for the camp to gain experience for a career she sees no trouble pursuing.

"I've had the whole 'Oh, you're a girl playing a boy's sport' – it doesn't bother me," said Bell, who plans to enroll in Lambton College for Pre-Service Firefighter Education and Training.

"Women are just as strong as men and they can do whatever they put their minds to."

Courtney Bell is one of 20 young women who are taking part in a five day all-female training course. (Chris Ensing/CBC)

She said working side-by-side with women who have real world experience is inspiring her.

"They're such strong, positive female role models here," said Bell. "Every single one of our instructors is pushing us really hard."

Bell said she loves the mentality of the instructors and the encouragement that comes along with it. 

"There's no 'Oh you can't do it," said Bell. "It's 'You're doing it, you're doing it right now."

Camp breaks barriers, builds connections

"There's always that 'old boys club' mentality but I think truly in the last five years – maybe a little longer – we're getting away from that," said Lori Hamer, Deputy Fire Chief with the London Fire Department. 

Hamer said the training is run by firefighters volunteering their time on days off to pass on their skills.

"We have some previous campers that come back as our councilors – for lack of a better term – squad leaders that also help out," said Hamer. 

Becky Mather said she sees the training as a way to prove to herself that she's strong enough to handle firefighting as a career. (Chris Ensing/CBC)

"My favourite part so far is just being with this amazing group of females and mentors  and of males that are supporting the females entering fire fighting," said Becky Mather, camp attendee, who plans on pursuing fire fighting training.

She said having veteran firefighters leading the camp has made it a valuable experience.

"It's amazing to see Allison there working alongside us – and she's showing us everything we need to know."