Five years ago, former chief of Ashland Fire and Rescue Mike D'Orazi approached firefighter Ashley Manning with an idea — a summer camp to introduce young women to firefighting.
“He asked me if I would be interested in running it. I thought it was a great idea, get more girls into the field, let ’em see if they like it,” she said.
This year's camp is June 23-25 at the Regional Training Center in White City. The last date to apply for camp is Sunday, May 28. As of Tuesday, a few spots remained for interested participants.
Manning estimated women make up 3% of firefighters nationally. Aside from a year lost to the pandemic, Rogue Girls Fire Camp has introduced new girls to the field every summer since it began.
“In the few years we’ve done it, we’ve already started to see success,” she said.
Two former attendees are now instructors at the camp, and another alumni is about to start working as a volunteer firefighter.
The free summer camp is structured as a three-day “mini-academy,” Manning said. Female firefighters from fire departments across Southern Oregon work together to teach different stations offering different skills, from rappelling to hooking up to a hydrant to CPR. In recent years, wildland firefighting skills have been included, too.
The age range for campers is technically 16 to 20, but girls as young as 15 and women as old as 22 have participated, Manning said. They’re willing to be lenient to cast a broad net. Even more than expanding the historically masculine trade, the experience of camp can be a revelation for young women.
“Even if they decide, ‘It’s not for me,’ they can still feel empowered. They’ll be like, ‘Wow I was able to kick that door down,’” Manning said.
She has seen the program touch its participants too many times to remember them all, she said. But this year, as one of the instructors was speaking at Phoenix High School to encourage female students to sign up, a teacher stopped her as she was leaving.
“There was a girl there at Phoenix who had been to camp last year. She was — let’s say 'troubled' before this — and the teacher said she was completely changed. She’s all straightened out. All she wants to do is be a firefighter. It’s all she talks about,” Manning said.
Lauren Fischer was ready to become an EMT. She believed her size — 5-foot-4 and 130 pounds — precluded her from being a firefighter. A friend convinced her to sign up for girls fire camp, just to try it.
“It’s all about your technique. If I can do it, anyone can do it,” Fischer said.
Fischer is now a firefighter with Applegate Valley Fire District, a part-time paramedic with American Medical Response and a volunteer with Rural Metro Fire in Josephine County.
She encouraged young women with even slight interest to sign up for one of the remaining spots at camp this year.
“You won’t know if you like it until you try. You could find something you’ll love for the rest of your life. It’s challenging, it’s hard work, you have to be a hard worker, but you learn something new every day, it’s a really rewarding job,” she said.
Welcome to the discussion.
Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.