HARRISONBURG — About a year ago, Gwen Matter completed a first aid class.
For the 15-year-old Elkton resident, it was a small glimpse of what it’s like to be involved in fire and rescue.
“It piqued my interest,” she said. “I wanted to get more experience and knowledge about firefighters and EMTs.”
This week, Matter was among 16 girls between the ages of 13 and 16 to participate in the second annual Camp L.I.T. — Leadership, Integrity and Trailblazer — to introduce teenage girls to the firefighting profession.
The Harrisonburg Fire Department and Rockingham County Fire and Rescue hosted the camp, which ran from Monday to Friday.
The training sessions took place at the HFD Training Grounds on East Mosby Road and Massanutten Technical Center on Pleasant Valley Road.
Campers participated in team-building exercises and CPR training. They also learned about gear, fire behavior, building construction, hose lines and search and rescue.
Lt. Erin Stehle, HFD’s fire prevention officer and a certified firefighter, said the camp shows them it’s possible to be a female firefighter.
Rockingham County has two full-time women firefighters while the city has one. Each department has about 80 firefighters each.
But it isn’t only about learning career skills, it’s about building confidence.
“It helps empower them,” Stehle said. “Then, they go back to their corner of their community and make it a better place.”
Harrisonburg firefighter Emily Walter, a recent James Madison University graduate, worked with the campers this week.
Walter, who started with the city in January after receiving her degree in health sciences, said there were several female role models she looked up to while volunteering at Hose Co. No. 4 while in college.
Now she gets to be that role model for others.
“It feels great knowing that I can have an impact on these girls’ lives,” she said.