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Cal Fire’s summer camp inspires young women to become future of the fire service

By Melanie Wingo

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    SHASTA COUNTY, California (KCRA) — As California’s wildfire seasons grow increasingly fierce, there’s an urgency to build up the firefighting workforce of the future.

Cal Fire, the state’s fire management agency, said it’s committed to bringing more women into its ranks. That’s why the agency just held a week-long camp for girls – ages 14 to 18 – in Shasta and San Luis Obispo counties.

Camp Cinder helps young women experience what it’s like to be part of the fire service.

“This basically gets them hands-on with a lot of the skills that we do,” explained Cal Fire’s Natalie Kerr.

The camp equips the young women with introductory, first responder skills.

“It opened my eyes to see a lot more of what Cal Fire does,” said camper River Van Mechelen. “It does quite a bit.”

Camp Cinder also helps kids interested in fire service figure out if becoming a firefighter is the right path for them.

“It’s actually really helped me decide if I want to be one,” said camper Caitlin Russell. “And I really do now!”

Each day at Camp Cinder has a different skills focus.

The girls suit up for wildland firefighting, dig fire lines by hand, manage hose lines, perform simulated water rescues, practice extrication techniques on vehicles and attack active flames.

“I’m not gonna lie, it’s a lot of physical work, but it’s awesome,” Van Mechelen said.

In addition to numerous tests of physical strength and endurance, campers also witness an important example being set.

“There’s other women engineers here; there’s other captains here; there’s other chiefs here,” said Kerr about female leaders from across the agency who instruct campers through each activity. “We really want that for the campers here at Camp Cinder. For these young women to kind of look around and recognize that.”

The leaders themselves also felt empowered by their participation in the camp.

“It’s just up-building. Like, wow! There’s a lot of other chicks out there that are able to do the job,” said firefighter Alicia Diaz of Cal Fire. “It just brings everyone’s spirits up. It’s been awesome.”

Cal Fire’s leaders were encouraged by the determination displayed at Camp Cinder, and hopeful, after seeing the promise of future female fire service members.

“It is so empowering seeing all these women here. They’re actually doing what some people say is a man’s job,” said Russell. “I aspire to be just like all these women here.”

Camp Cinder sessions are over for this summer, but Cal Fire plans to host Camp Cinder again next summer.

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