Va. fire department encourages girls to become firefighters

ARLINGTON (WUSA9) -- Firefighting can be a great career for girls. That's what the Arlington County Fire Department is showing a few dozen teenage girls this weekend in a hands-on, experience-driven Fire Camp for girls.

It's an introduction to firefighting only for teenage girls between the ages of 13- and 18-years-old. This weekends' participants come mostly from Arlington, but also Charles County, Maryland and Pennsylvania. It starts with the same, tough workout real firefighters do.

Kaitlyn Matthews from Charles County calls the morning workout "Challenging. That pretty much sums it up."

Climbing up and down the watch tower stairs looks easy, but it's a killer.

Annie Lowery from Arlington's Yorktown High School said, "I just climbed six stories. It was brilliant. Stellar. "

Lauren Woods from Pennsylvania thought it'd be no problem, but her "legs felt like noodles."

The Arlington County Fire Department puts on the camp to encourage girls to become firefighters. Only seven percent of Arlington Firefighters are women. Nationally, the average is four percent.

A lot of the girls say they want to be paramedics. Captain Tiffany Wesley, who runs the Fire Marshall's office, loves to give them a new perspective.

"The more people kept telling me that I was too small, that I'd never be able to do it, encouraged me to do it. That's been the story of my career. I've been here 20 years," said the petite, yet commanding Wesley. She is Arlington County's only female bomb technician and she started as a firefighter.

"I am a mentor so I'll be spending the night with the girls and so we'll have more in-depth conversations. But I love the reaction when they find out I'm a bomb technician," said Wesley.

The girls also watch a real fire which is set in a simulated bedroom built for this program. The girls will see firsthand how fast fire spreads, and how oxygen affects fire when the door is open. Then, they watch as firefighters attack the flames and put it out and how they keep themselves safe.

Despite the danger and grueling physical demands, a few girls here are already sold. Lauren Woods's father was a paramedic and she wants to follow in his footsteps.

Evelyn Smith, from Arlington's Washington and Lee, who, despite her broken arm is here enjoying the camp.

"I think I may actually look into to it. It's challenging, and something that I like," Smith said.

It's not easy to become an Arlington County firefighter. Out of 1,500 who apply every year, only about 15 or one percent make it through the whole process.

Written by Peggy Fox


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