Firefighting day camp brought girls together

 

Last updated 6/13/2023 at 3:50pm

Photo by Emma Renly

A handful of the 32 participants at the Junior Wildland Firefighting Camp.

On May 20, the United States Forest Service (USFS) and nonprofit SheJumps partnered to host Wild Skills Junior Wildland Firefighting at Scout Lake Campground in Sisters. The full-day event offered young girls aged 8 to 14 an opportunity to learn fundamental outdoor skills and insights into the world of wildland fire. The programming was made possible through a grant received by Fire Management Officer Andrew Myhra, based in Sisters Ranger District.

SheJumps is a nationally recognized nonprofit with a mission to increase the participation of women and girls in the outdoors. Their Wild Skills programming aims to teach participants survival and technical skills for outdoor adventuring.

"Our goal is to see girls learning, having fun, and connecting in an encouraging environment with amazing instruction and support from female mentors," said Robyn Gelfand, national program director. "We want SheJumps Wild Skills to spark a lifetime of passion for the outdoors and will remind them that they are capable of anything."

Gelfand noted that along with Junior Wildland Firefighter, the series includes Junior Ski Patrol and Junior Search and Rescue to give girls hands-on experience learning about professional opportunities in these fields.

Christa Nash-Webber, SheJumps Oregon event coordinator, also feels passionate about increasing the number of women in these fields.

"Only 27 percent of positions with USFS are filled by women. With fires becoming such a big part of our lives on the west coast, forest management and wildfire management is becoming increasingly important," Nash-Webber said. "I think it's imperative to have women in important positions making important decisions."

The day mirrored a real wildland fire incident, including a morning briefing and weather outlook led by Carissa Silvis, a fire prevention technician at Columbia River Gorge Fire Management. Participants were then divided into age-based teams, each led by a "squad boss."

Throughout the day, the teams engaged in a series of hands-on stations led by women actively working in wildland fire and SheJumps volunteers. The stations covered a range of essential topics, including first aid, radio communication, weather and fire behavior, and navigation.

"They're learning very useful skills. This is their first introduction to things like slinging a shoulder, applying pressure on wounds, and finding a pulse," said Katie Taylor, a second-year wildland firefighter in the Newberry Division at Deschutes National Forest. "Growing up, there was never anything like this. Seeing all these women here, I'd be inspired. It'd propel me sooner to join wildland fire."

The navigation station was taught by Renae Aigner and Jessica Mondello. It included instructing the participants to find directions with and without a compass, as well as getting familiar with topographic maps.

Photo by Emma Renly

Participants learn how to 'swing and swath' a shoulder injury at the first aid station.

"A lot of these skills are not second nature to people, especially in a digital world. It's important to learn how to get about if a device fails or there's no phone or GPS," Aigner said, emphasizing that wildland firefighting is far from an unskilled job.

"I never knew about wildland firefighting at their age, coming from the East Coast you didn't hear about wildfires," said Aigner. "If someone would've told me it'd be my career path ten years ago I would've replied 'Naw, not me.' This program is giving them a path at a young age. If we can do it, you can do it."

The sentiment rang true for Sarge Welge, a squad leader in the Newberry Division for Deschutes National Forest.

"When I got into leadership positions, I was able to watch firefighters learn and grow their skills. I also watched women gain confidence in the field," she said. "I make a difference by being out there. Them seeing someone that looks like them in a leadership position means something."

 

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