A camper at Stafford County Fire and Rescue's first fire camp for girls learns how to use the hose. (Photos courtesy SCFR).

A hot career choice: Stafford camp aims to spark girls’ interest in firefighting

by | Jun 30, 2024 | ALLFFP, Police and Fire, Stafford

Once registration opened, it only took six hours for Stafford County’s first all-girls fire camp to completely fill up.   

It’s a positive sign for a career field that is made up of less than 10% women nationally. Stafford County Fire and Rescue (SCFR) is working to increase that percentage.

At last week’s day camp, girls ages 10 to 16 had the chance to test their skills and learn new ones under the guidance of SCFR volunteers and personnel.

Campers got to try on some fire equipment.

About 40 girls gathered at the Stafford Training and Logistics Center to learn basic first aid, hands-only CPR, teamwork, what real fire gear feels like and the variety of fire service careers available. Nearly all of the camp’s instructors are female professionals or volunteers with the department. For most of the campers, it was the first time they’d had the chance to learn about the world of firefighting from women on the job.  

It’s also a useful recruiting tool, explained Chief Joseph Cardello, who considers increasing female representation in the department an important goal.

“It reflects our community. Women are 50% of the population but only like 6% of the fire service in general and that’s not acceptable,” Cardello said. “I think it’s because if you go back 20 years and look at all the media, TV, movies, all you see is men doing this.”  

Reaching young people to encourage them to explore the field isn’t unfamiliar territory for the department. Stafford teens can already join the high school fire academy, the recruit academy or volunteer programs.  

As a department, SCFR has 18 women in sworn career positions, plus two in the Office of Emergency Management, 38 women in operational volunteer emergency medical service/fire positions and 73 probationary female volunteer personnel.  

Stafford Public Information Office Katie Brady modeled the camp after a similar program she developed in another jurisdiction.

“This is our first year with it so we wanted to just do a one-day thing and see how that goes,” she said. “We just want young girls in our community to see that this is totally something they can do.”  

The campers developed confidence in their abilities by using teamwork to lift a heavy load and drag a dummy through an obstacle course, mimicking a rescue from a burning building.

Campers meet Lincoln, the SCFR arson dog.

They met Lincoln the arson dog and learned how to be safe around fire.  

“Maybe there’s little girls that didn’t think this was an option for them. This is absolutely an option for them,” Cardello said. “I’ve been doing this for 35 years. Women can do this just as well as men.”  

At least one camper is astutely aware of firefighting as a career option.   

While not new to the world of firefighting, Liv Cardello, 11, said she did learn something new at camp thanks to a demonstration involving a dollhouse.

“They lit it on a fire and showed us that if the door is shut the fire is less likely to reach your room at night,” said Cardello, the fire chief’s daughter.   

She also found watching body-cam footage of a house fire to be fascinating. She said that the other campers were excited by the activities.  

“Fire camp is really fun and it’s a really cool opportunity that everyone should get to try,” she said. 

Campers met women who work with SCFR either as professionals or volunteers.

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