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By Ronda Scholting

They came together as teenagers, unsure of themselves, doubting their abilities and strengths. Four days of physical and mental challenges turned them into young women, more confident and stronger than they had ever thought possible. They had faced fire and won.

West Metro Fire Rescue’s Training Center welcomed 15 teenage girls last month for Camp Ember, a program designed to introduce them not only to the fire service, but to women in the fire service. Nationally, only seven percent of firefighters are women, according to the National Fire Protection Association.

A partnership between West Metro, Arvada Fire and Red Rocks Community College, Camp Ember put the girls through some of the same training that real firefighters have to master before they graduate from recruit academy. Campers learned how to put on their protective (bunker) gear, how to handle a fire hose, received training in CPR and first aid, and then put it all together to practice extinguishing a propane fire.

“We wanted to give the girls a taste of what it’s like to be a firefighter and also show them that they can make firefighting a career,” said Rachel Kohler, a firefighter/paramedic with West Metro. “It sounds cliché, but seeing is believing. We gave them real examples of women who have made a life in the fire service. Now they know that they can do it too.”

Red Rocks Community College secured the funding for the camp through the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act. It’s a federal grant that funds programs that help increase participation of underrepresented students in high-need programs. The grant will pay for one more year of the camp. Organizers hope to find community partners to keep the program going after that.

Each of the girls chosen to take part applied for a spot by writing an essay about what they hoped to learn during the four days. Confidence and strength were two of the most mentioned attributes.

“Some of the girls have a strong sports background and have played on school or club teams, “said Kohler. “Some of the girls have family members who are firefighters, but they had never thought about the fire service for themselves. After this – I hope that they will see that there is no limit to what they can do.”

If you or someone you know is interested in participating in Camp Ember in 2018, watch the West Metro website: www.westmetrofire.org, for information next spring. And, follow Camp Ember on Facebook: www.facebook.com/CampEmber.

Ronda Scholting is the Communications/Media Relations Specialist for West Metro Fire Rescue; contact her at rscholting@westmetrofire.org or 303-941-8317.