EAU CLAIRE, WI – Standing at the top of a 30-foot pole, Julie Yang took time to admire the view. The view was impressive, but so was the courage of Yang and her peers at the Girls on Fire Camp at Chippewa Valley Technical College (CVTC) Aug. 3-7.
Braving the ropes course, including climbing the pole wearing a harness and jumping off to be lowered to safety by other campers, was among the many character-building activities in the camp designed to expose girls from junior high through high school age to emergency medical services (EMS) and firefighting careers. The girls went on to engage in many hands-on activities directly related to the careers, such as emergency medical procedures, holding a charged fire hose with the help of others, connecting a hose to a hydrant, safely climbing a ladder and through a window into a smoky room, putting out a fire with an extinguisher, and many other skills firefighters use every day.
Yang, a freshman at Elk Mound High School, said one of her favorite parts was the ropes course, including standing on top of that pole so far off the ground. “What I really liked about it was the landscape,” she said, describing the view of the hills and trees in the distance.
Grace Palacios, a junior at Menomonie High School, admitted she wasn’t so relaxed on that pole. “I was terrified,” she said. “But I did it. I learned that if I focus I can do anything, and I’m learning to trust others.”
And that is exactly the kind of lesson camp director and career firefighter Marcy Bruflat hopes the girls take away from the camp, whether they pursue firefighting and EMS careers or not.
“The number one goal is to create confidence in young women, to have them do something that women don’t usually do,” Bruflat said.
Nationally, women make up only about four percent of professional firefighters, and Bruflat feels many young women don’t realize they are capable of doing the work. She wants the campers to learn their own capabilities, and to build teamwork and leadership skills.
“All of our activities are tied to leadership in some way,” Bruflat said. “And they work together as part of crews. We want them to get more confident in themselves, but to also focus on ‘us.’ “
Bruflat says it would be an “added bonus” if the camp led some of the girls to enroll in CVTC’s FireMedic program and pursue careers in the field. It’s at least getting some girls to think about it, if they haven’t already.
“I really want to be a firefighter,” said Palacios, adding she developed the interest about two years ago. “Nobody in my family has ever done it, so I want to do it.”
“Every year a firefighter comes to the school to talk about being a firefighter,” Yang said. “I wanted to experience how everything works and what it’s like to be a firefighter or paramedic.”
Some girls signed up for the camp because of family interest, like a parent in emergency services work. Others came already interested in the medical field and looking forward to the EMS activities.
“My future career is being an audiologist,” said Lindsey Vue, a freshman at Elk Mound High School. “This will help me in my medical field.”
Overall, the girls find the camp, now in its second year, loads of fun, and a chance to build strong bonds with new friends while learning new skills. On the first full day, they were loading one another into ambulances, taking blood pressure and pulse, performing CPR, and treating an injured patient in the form of an interactive patient simulator. By mid-week they were bracing one another as they held a spraying high pressure fire hose, approaching a fuel fire with an extinguisher while wearing full firefighter gear, and searching a room blindfolded in a team effort to rescue an infant simulator.
Last year’s inaugural camp was so successful most of the girls returned this year for a follow-up camp called Girls on Fire Rekindle, sponsored by the Altoona Fire Department and a local Explorers group. That camp concluded just as the second annual Girls on Fire camp started.
“Some of the parents called me last year and said their girls talked about the camp constantly for two weeks afterwards. When they’re talking about it, you know you’ve met your goals,” Bruflat said.
The camp included many positive role models for girls. The camp instructors were female firefighters and EMTs from the area, female CVTC FireMedic students, and men in the field as well.
Chippewa Valley Technical College delivers superior, progressive technical education which improves the lives of students, meets the workforce needs of the region, and strengthens the larger community. Campuses are located in Chippewa Falls, Eau Claire, Menomonie, Neillsville and River Falls. CVTC serves an 11-county area in west central Wisconsin. CVTC is part of the Wisconsin Technical College System (WTCS) and is one of 16 WTCS colleges located throughout the state.