HARRISONBURG — It’s not just about teaching young women to be firefighters, it’s also about empowering them.
That’s a message coming out of the Harrisonburg Fire Department and Rockingham County Fire Rescue’s second Camp L.I.T., which stands for leadership, integrity and trailblazer, and will run from July 15-19.
“Most people know that the fire service is predominately male-dominated,” event coordinator and the city’s public education officer Erin Stehle said in an interview Tuesday.
There is only one female firefighter, who is in suppression, in Harrisonburg, Stehle said. Being in suppression means the person works a 12- to 24-hour shift.
The free camp is designed for girls ages 13-16 and isn’t exclusive to only Harrisonburg residents.
“We want to reach young females interested in this field all throughout the central area,” she said.
Any interested female must submit an application by June 14 by 5 p.m. Applications can be found at https://www.harrisonburgva.gov/fire.
Stehle said the applications give girls an opportunity to tell the department why they want to come to the camp and what’s important to them.
Last year, 20 females attended the camp.
“With it being our first year holding the event last year, we were hoping to get at least 12 [participants], so the fact that 20 girls came to the camp was shocking and exciting,” Stehle said.
The camp is a day-camp and runs from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. There are 10-12 instructors teaching the young women a number of things in relation to firefighting and rescue, including emergency medical calls and technical rescue calls.
“We jam everything you can imagine into those five days,” Stehle said, adding that there is room for about 24 participants due to staffing.
In addition to introducing girls to fire and rescue, the camp can also serve as a segue to participate in Massanutten Technical Center.
“MTC began serving the community in 1972 as a joint career and technical education center serving the students of Harrisonburg City and Rockingham County Public Schools and offers classes to the local high schools in a variety of career areas,” according to its website.
Stehle said traditional college isn’t for everyone and giving females the chance to learn about different opportunities available for a career.
“We focus on empowerment and self-reflection after each day at camp,” she said. “We give them the tools and allow them to reflect and after that, it’s up to them how they use those tools and the knowledge they’ve gained from the camp.”
At the end of the week, there is an award banquet where the campers, instructors and family members can gather and celebrate accomplishments.
Stehle said that last year, there was a girl who was scared to climb the fire ladder, but she overcame her fear and climbed 70 feet of the 102-foot ladder.
Three awards are given out at the banquet that embody L.I.T. and all campers also receive a certificate and a patch to commemorate their participation.
“We had our first girl from camp last year become a certified firefighter a week or two ago,” Stehle said. “Next, she can work toward becoming an emergency medical technician.”
She said there are no words to describe the feelings she has seeing young women find out what interests them and taking strides – whether it’s with fire and rescue or something else.
“In the eight years I’ve been here, I’m most proud of this camp,” she said. “This was an idea for many people in the area and like anything, you have to make sure it’s the right time and you have the right resources to put on something like this. But everything came together smoothly and it’s exciting to be holding this camp for a second year.”