These challenges are meant to help foster personal growth in a safe and supportive environment. The friendships that develop quickly through these experiences often become friendships of a lifetime.
BLAZE: Firecamp for Young Women, affectionately known as “Camp Blaze” by its founders and alumni, is a week-long camp dedicated to enhancing leadership skills taught through the lens of firefighting. Staffed almost exclusively by female firefighters who volunteer their time, 24 lucky young women between the ages of 16-19 are chosen every other year to travel to Washington State, for a week’s worth of training experiences at the Washington State Patrol Fire Training Academy in North Bend.
Starting a Legacy
Camp Blaze originated in the hearts and minds of a group of female firefighters from San Francisco, who sought to provide an annual, free camp where young women could experience what a career in the fire service might be like. The first camp was held in 2001 in North Bend, and in San Francisco in 2002. But in 2003, the Board of Directors voted to offer Camp Blaze as a biennial event to allow for fundraising in the off years, as Camp Blaze is provided at no cost to the attendees (except for transportation to the Seattle area). Since 2003, Camp Blaze has been hosted at the Fire Training Academy in Washington, and after a two-year hiatus due to the pandemic, the Blaze organization is thrilled to be able to return to North Bend this year for its first in-person camp since 2018.
Starting with the basics, the training provided over the course of the week is designed to allow campers to work safely as a team in a firefighting environment. A carefully crafted curriculum introduces them to the equipment that will allow them to fight fire at the end of the week. Experienced staff are always close at hand during these exercises and ready to encourage campers when necessary.
Learning more than Just the Basics
On day one, the campers participate in a variety of firefighting and rescue activities, including instruction in fire behavior, and then on to hose handling, search and rescue, ladders (including climbing a 100’ aerial ladder), rappelling, forcible entry, as well as self-defense and first aid/CPR. The week is capped off with a live-fire training event supervised by the crew leaders who are all active-duty firefighters. In addition, the week of camp is filled with an abundance of opportunities to apply leadership skills in a mentor-driven environment. Campers have the opportunity to practice becoming good leaders, and also learn how to be supportive in a leadership role.
Navigating Challenges and Celebrating Growth
Throughout the week, campers are sure to face one challenge or another. These challenges are meant to help foster personal growth in a safe and supportive environment. The friendships that develop quickly through these experiences often become friendships of a lifetime. As campers navigate this growth, they learn to become empowered and believe in themselves; a characteristic that is sure to contribute towards success in their future endeavors. Ask any camper, and the general consensus is: “the girls who arrived on day one, are not the same women who are leaving after graduation.”
“The girls who came into this camp and the girls who are leaving are not the same.
We go by the same names, and we may look the same, but we are stronger, smarter, and more compassionate. But more than anything we are ready. We are ready to reach out, to be ourselves, to take care of each other, and to put some ‘wet on the red’, whether we want to be firefighters or not.” – Camp Blaze Camper, 2014
While Camp Blaze is offered in a fire service setting, it is not the primary goal of the camp to recruit firefighters. Rather, the mission of Camp Blaze is to “empower, inspire and support strong women leaders”. There is no greater reward for the volunteers than to see Camp Blaze campers return to their community and make the world a better place, whether they choose a career in the fire service, or in other industries. Although ask any of the volunteers, and they will admit that it is their hope that the campers learn to love the profession of firefighting as much as they do.
Women and Fire
In addition to Camp Blaze, the organization also offers an event known as “Women & Fire,” which is promoted as a training event “for women firefighters, by women firefighters.” Held in the off years of Camp Blaze, Women & Fire is hosted in different locations each year and offers a weekend of hands-on drills and instruction for women in the fire service, as well as a day of professional development related to the mission of Camp Blaze.
While the camp offers mentoring opportunities for the girls, many of the volunteers also acknowledge life-long friendships as well as professional associations that have assisted in professional development resulting in promotional opportunities within their own departments. Several of the volunteers who began participating in the early years of Camp Blaze as firefighters have gone on to promote to officer ranks, including Battalion Chiefs, Assistant Chiefs, Deputy Chiefs, and even Fire Chiefs of major metropolitan cities.
Women Firefighter Organizations
Additionally, these professional associations among the firefighters have generated several girls’ camps up and down the West Coast. Including Los Angeles, Sacramento, and Anchorage, and have also laid the groundwork for the creation of a consortium of women firefighter organizations, including NorCal Women in the Fire Service and Golden State Women in the Fire Service, both of which offer girls camps throughout the northern California region.
Applications for Camp Blaze 2022 are open through March 31st for both campers and volunteers. More information is available on the website: www.campblazefirecamp.org.