Girls get fired up at daylong camp

Girls get fired up at daylong camp

Girls get fired up at daylong camp
Bay Area girls grades 9-12 learn to handle a fire hose at the NorCal First Alarm Girls Fire Camp held at the CCCFPD Training Center Mar. 26. ­During the camp sponsored by NorCal Women in the Fire Service, the participants received instruction in a variety of firefighting skills from female ­firefighters who hope to encourage young women to enter a field historically dominated by men. (Tamara Steiner photo)

CONCORD, CA (Apr. 14, 2022) — More than two dozen teenage girls found out just what it is to “fight like a girl” when they attended a First Alarm Girls Fire Camp March 26 at the Contra Costa County Fire Protection District Training Center in Concord.

The day long camp is sponsored by Nor Cal Women in Fire Service (NorCal WFS) to mentor and encourage girls interested in a career as an EMT or firefighter.

Under the tutelage of veteran women firefighters, the participants worked through a series of exercises that included basic search and rescue skills, climbing the aerial ladder and ramming their way through a blocked door. They learned to use a fire extinguisher —“Pull the handle, grab the nozzle and swish, swish.” And found just how much teamwork it takes to pull a 50-foot fire hose.

Career choice

Carondelet senior Rylee Chilson gets instruction in forcible entry technique at the First Alarm Fire Camp, March 27. (Tamara Steiner photo)

Carondelet High senior Rylee Chilson plans to become a firefighter and EMT.

She is a star beach volleyball player with good lower body strength, but even for her the wildland fire hose proved too much.

“The regular house fire hose was fairly easy,” she said. “But then they gave us a chance to use the wildland hose, a much thicker and heavier hose used for forest fires.

“We had to stay in a squat the whole time and duck walk while pulling it. Even with three of us pulling it was near impossible.”

According to Kimberly Larson, founder of the First Alarm program and a captain with the Alameda Fire Dept., fewer than 5% of firefighters nationwide are female.


The profession has not always been welcoming to women who are often viewed as not physically or mentally strong enough.

When Larson first started 25 years ago, there were no women firefighters in her district. “We slept in one big dormitory. There wasn’t even a private bathroom.”

Slowly, things are changing. Now there are 4-6 female officers in her company and the dormitories are now private, non-gender specific sleeping alcoves.

Nor Cal WFS recruits girls for the camp through schools, athletic departments, social media, and word of mouth from all over the Bay Area.
“We’re asking a lot of these girls,” said Aisha Knowles, Nor Cal WFS public affairs manager. “We’re asking them to integrate with people they don’t know and do things they’ve never done.”


The girls work in small groups that stay together throughout the day. The exercises are hard, and require them to work as a team, support each other and often swallow their own fear.

“A lot of what firefighters do is not only physically demanding, (but) the thick safety gear, air tanks and constant squat make it so much harder,” Chilson said in an email to the Pioneer.

“All of the girls in my group struggled at times but the rest of us were there to push them when they did,” she said.

“The camaraderie between both the female camp counselors and students was evident at every point throughout the day.”

For more information on a career as a firefighter or dates for future camps, go to or email