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Teen Girls Learn Firefighting

  • June Soh

Most summer camps for teens revolve around sports, or music and arts, or just for having fun. But some girls in the Washington suburb of Arlington County, Virginia, went to camp to get a taste of what it's like to be a firefighter.

This is not a typical summer camp. But Michelle Pawlaw is glad she signed up for it.

“Getting to experience the fires hands-on is really cool and something that most people don’t get to do," she said.

Michelle and eight other teenage girls are participating in the three-day camp offered by the Arlington County Fire Department located just outside of Washington.

Firefighter Clare Burley is in charge of the program.

“The purpose is to try to get young women interested in considering the fire service as a career," she said.

The free of charge, overnight camp is designed to let the girls experience what firefighters do in the line of duty to protect the community. That includes some rigorous activities such as moving a fire victim.

“I didn’t think I could pull that 170-pound body [77 kg] with a friend, but I was actually able to do it," she said.

They take classes and learn how to climb the ladder on a fire truck, operate emergency tools and rescue an injured person. They also do their share of cleaning the firehouse and the equipment.

“Every week without fail on a Saturday, the job is to wash all the rigs and wash the floors. And we wanted the girls to see this is what we do. This is a typical day in a firehouse," she said.

Firefighting is still a male-dominated service, but Burley says with 22 women on its force of 320 the Arlington Fire Department is above the national average of 4.5 percent. She joined the department seven years ago.

“We do everything that the guys do to the same standard. We are tested to the same standard. We are expected to operate at the same standard," she said.

“We need to wash the lettuce and put it in a green big bowl," said Lieutenant Robert Beer.

The girls help the crew on duty prepare for dinner. It is also part of the program.

“Because the kitchen is a very important part of a firefighter's life. We work 24 hours together, seven days a week. We cook here, we sleep here. We usually have breakfast and dinner together. That's how we build camaraderie," said Beer.

Most of the girls say they had never thought about becoming a firefighter, but the camp was a great learning experience.

“I think it is definitely not a job that only men can do. Women can do it just as well as men can," said Michelle Pawlaw.

“I think I can help other people if they need help and know what to do in case I am at a fire myself," said Kayla Ehrlich.

“I think I could be a volunteer firefighter from this experience," said Monica Bartorsh.

And, the girls say, by spending three days together, they also made new friends and had a lot of fun.
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