Cultivating Women Firefighters — Gals Only! Fire Science Camp

February 15, 2012

According the Department of Labor, women ages 16 and older account for about 47 percent of the civilian workforce. However, paid female firefighters represent 3.7 percent of the civilian workforce, making it among the lowest 11 percent of all occupations for women employees.

GO! (Gals Only!) Fire Science Camp, a 2009–11 AAUW Community Action Grant recipient, is determined to change these statistics. The camp was originally developed out of successful basic and advanced coed fire-science career camps, which were launched in 2004 by the University of Wisconsin, Oshkosh; Fox Valley Technical College; and the Oshkosh and Appleton fire departments. Since 2009, the GO! camp, which is led by female firefighters and instructors, has brought together young women ages 15–20 who are interested in exploring fire-service careers. Their aim is to educate, train, nurture, and mentor the young women to better prepare them for careers in fire science.

GO! presents a realistic view of fire-science careers to attendees. The girls participate in tours of fire stations and learn that the occupation is more than fighting fires. It includes station maintenance, physical fitness activities, cooking, cleaning, and sometimes discrimination and sexual harassment. The camp maintains a balance by exposing the girls to a combination of theory and field experience. Participants learn how fires behave in various scenarios and how to work gear and equipment — knowledge that is then applied to field activities. In addition to learning about fire science and the life of a firefighter, participants are exposed to leadership development, team building, new friendships, and fun.

The success of the GO! camp has shown in rising enrollment of camp alumni in technical colleges and bachelor’s degree programs. However, fire science isn’t a field many girls consider in their career paths, which results in low camp participation. To overcome this obstacle, the camp works to develop a one-on-one, personal relationship between attendees and the experienced women firefighters. While training is still an integral aspect of the young women’s experiences, those mentoring relationships — developed through camp activities and shared meals — have left lasting impressions on their lives.

The AAUW grant has given GO! the opportunity to help underserved young women explore the fire science field and make connections with female firefighters as mentors. The camp continues to “advance equity for women through education while increasing science and math competencies and knowledge of nontraditional careers for women.” This summer, the camp will offer this unique opportunity again, giving more girls an in-depth look at the life of a female firefighter.

This post was written by AAUW Fellowships and Grants Intern Elyssa Shildneck.

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