Igniting a new passion

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Burnaby firefighter Heather Wilson knows it isn’t easy getting women interested in her line of work but that doesn’t mean she won’t keep trying.

Wilson and six other female firefighters from departments across the Lower Mainland run Camp Ignite, a four-day camp for girls 16 to 18 years old, which introduces them to the world of firefighting.

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On Sunday, the girls were in Burnaby practising their rescue training skills and celebrating the final day of the camp.

Camp Ignite was founded four years ago as a way to show young women that firefighting isn’t only for men.

“Part of the idea of showing them and having them do the actual firefighting skills is so that they learn that they’re capable of doing it,” Wilson told the NOW. “I think that’s the biggest thing. It’s such a male-dominated career that a lot of women don’t believe that they can do it.”

This year, 20 girls from municipalities across the Lower Mainland and beyond visited five different departments, including Vancouver, North Vancouver, Coquitlam, Surrey and Burnaby, where they were shown the ropes. The girls were put through various training exercises, similar to what an actual fire recruit would go through.

“It’s just about helping build the confidence, having a lot of fun with it, doing all the different skills so that they know that it’s a career … that it’s definitely a possibility,” Wilson said.

So far, only one of the graduates of Camp Ignite has begun an application process with a fire department but Wilson said many of her other students have shown interest in firefighting as a career and are enrolled in courses required to apply as a recruit.

“There are a handful of girls that are actively taking courses and starting the path to a possible career in firefighting,” Wilson added.

Wilson, who’s been a firefighter in Burnaby for more than a decade, helped found Camp Ignite as a way to show young women firefighting isn’t just for men.

“We felt it was an awareness issue and that there were just so many women out there that didn’t even know that women could be a firefighter,” she said.

Four years in, Wilson said there’s still a ways to go before fire departments have a noticeable female presence. Currently, Burnaby has about seven female firefighters in a department with 200 members.

“It’s really just about raising awareness and showing the girls it’s possible,” Wilson added. “We’re just hoping the momentum from it will create some excitement around it and some exposure.”

Participants in Camp Ignite are sponsored by fire departments across the Lower Mainland, often on the recommendation of their respective schools. Applications are due in May.

For more information on the program, visit campignite.com.

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