Girls Fire Camp shows high school girls a future in firefighting

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Dozens of high school-aged girls will join veteran female firefighters for a one-day fire camp this weekend. The goal is to introduce girls to careers in the fire service and give them insight into not only what they can be, but also what they can do.

This will be the fifth NorCal First Alarm Girls Fire Camp hosted by the NorCal Women in the Fire Service.

“Across the country, we’re at four percent, and that’s about the lowest of any career, especially public safety careers,” said County Fire Captain Kimberly Larson. Alameda and group president.

The small number can make it difficult to recruit because “this fraternity can be hard for women to break into,” Larson said.

She brought this camp to the Bay Area after being inspired by a program called Camp Blaze in Washington State.

“There are battalion commanders, officers, engineers and people of all ranks doing the same, breaking bread, sharing stories and providing mentorship,” Larson said, “and that sense of community isn’t something I’ve experienced before in firefighting.”

Larson is a trailblazer, but she didn’t grow up wanting to be one. In fact, she didn’t even want to be a firefighter until her father, who was a volunteer firefighter, invited her to a training exercise.

“We kicked down doors, threw ladders, pulled hoses and discussed what to do if a firefighter fell,” Larson said. “I was like, ‘This is great, are they going to pay me to do this?

She didn’t have a single female firefighter to look up to at the time, Larson said. Instead, the male instructor of his first firefighting course in Massachusetts spent 30 minutes explaining to the class why the women in the fire department had just caused trouble.

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“After half an hour he made the call,” Larson explained, “he got to my name and said, ‘Larson, Kim’ and said, ‘OK, who’s the woman? And I said, ‘Yeah, that’s me.’ And he said, ‘Stand up.’ Then, he shamelessly made the eyes of the elevator.”

But Larson persevered. She is now captain of Alameda County.

“Right now, I’m one of 4-6 female leaders in my department,” Larson said. But being a pioneer is hard, “you’re still the only one, or the first”. She prefers not to have this nickname.

So she tries to change that, helping girls see what can be.

“It’s so cool to hear young people see this as a possibility,” Larson said. “At the end of the day, our biggest goal is to make them see that they can do whatever they want.”

Aspiring fitness trainer and dietitian, Jessica Beristianos, volunteered to help out at camp three years ago.

“I was so out of the loop I didn’t even know what to wear. I remember I showed up in gym clothes,” she said with a laugh.

Larson’s wife, Katy Erhardt, who is also a fire captain, had been trying to recruit Beristianos for years. Turns out he wasn’t talking, but that turned it around.

“It was so cool. I was doing things I never thought I could do. I had never started a chainsaw,” Beristianos said, “I really don’t think I would have found it if I didn’t. hadn’t seen that and seen how powerful it all was.”

At the end of the camp, she asked a question: “What is the next step? What should I do ? »

Beristianos is now a trainee firefighter with the North County Fire Authority in Daly City.

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“They’ve had female firefighters there for 35 years. We currently have over ten percent in our department, so it’s been a really great experience,” she explained.

While this camp is all about pulling pipes, using fire extinguishers, learning CPR, and operating chainsaws, it’s also about change.

“I think that definitely changes the conversation,” Larson said. Although she didn’t come to make waves, she now thinks some waves are good waves.

Although she didn’t come to make waves, she now thinks some waves are good waves. It is a reminder that differences are strengths.

“We show up as a team with three people on a fire truck all looking at the same problem and trying to come up with a solution,” Larson explained, “and the perspective that I bring based on my life experience, my gender, height, and athletic experience is different from what my firefighter brings and what my engineer brings.”

The camp provides an incredible sense of belonging for career firefighters, Larson said. And serves as a reminder that even though you’re the only one in the room, you’re not alone.

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