Tamara (second from left) took part in a firefighting camp for teen girls earlier this month.

Tamara (second from left) took part in a firefighting camp for teen girls earlier this month.

Female firefighters inspire local teens

Mentorship camp introduces male-dominated profession to girls

She never considered a career as a firefighter when she was younger because she didn’t know women could become one.

“It was never really a dream of mine because I didn’t think it was something that was really possible,” says Surrey teen Tamara, a Grade 12 Queen Elizabeth Secondary student said.

It’s an unfortunate misconception amongst girls, according to Tim Dykeman, Surrey Fire Service’s recruitment co-ordinator, who said the field today has less gender discrimination and is attracting more and more females.

“We are starting to see women who are saying, ‘you know what, I can do this,’” Dykeman said. “It’s just like welding or truck driving… it used to be one of those things that just wasn’t considered because it wasn’t considered a career for women.

“I personally went through fire school with some fantastic women who earned a ton of my respect.”

Dykeman noted firefighting still generally tends to be male-dominated; Surrey Fire Service is almost 92 per cent male ,with eight female firefighters.

So, to encourage young women to consider the career path, a group of female firefighters from a dozen different departments in the Lower Mainland facilitated a mentorship camp for girls ages 16 to 18. The program was funded by several municipalities, with the goal to introduce young women to the profession and coach them on how to pursue it as a career.

In May, Surrey Fire Service and Surrey Firefighters Association ran an essay contest through Surrey School District to select two local residents to participate in the camp.

When Tamara heard about the opportunity, she jumped on board, choosing her mother as the subject of her essay on who inspires her most.

“I thought, ‘hey, that’s a good idea, that’s a new experience.”

Tamara (who requested her last name not be published) said she was intrigued by a career that would allow her to save lives, help the community and “do something that not many other people get to do.”

The program was held Aug. 5-7 at a training camp in Vancouver and the YWCA.

Tamara and the other contest winner, Queen Elizabeth Secondary grad Angela Barna, learned skills such as fire-extinguisher use, search and rescue techniques, working with ropes and knots and CPR training. Campers also mastered the Grouse Grind and attended a climbing gym.

“It was very demanding,” Tamara said, noting the 17 girls who took part helped each other get through it. “All of us have this courage to really want to help people and that made them so easy to become friends with and easy to trust.”

But it was the female firefighters training the girls who made the biggest impact, Tamara said.

“They were very empowering – they are all very strong women and they’re all very accomplished and happy,” she said. “Even if a girl felt like maybe firefighting wasn’t her thing, those women taught us so much anyways, no matter what career you’re going to be in.”

Tamara said she learned courage from the women, as well as the importance of companionship.

“You don’t have to go through everything alone – you have friends.”

Tamara said firefighting is still a possibility for her future, but the camp experience will be beneficial no matter what career paths participants take.

“It teaches us that we can be strong – we don’t need a man to do all this, we can do it ourselves. We might need other women to do it, but we can still get it done,” she said. “I think if you have the strength in your mind to do this, then you should definitely do this because it will definitely change your life.”