Girls in Gear wraps up first-ever girls’ firefighting camp for Kingston

Girls in Gear campers learn to control a firehose as a team. Photo by Michelle Dorey Forestell/Kingstonist.

Thirty Kingston-area girls had the opportunity of a lifetime this week, working alongside a proud group of women in the fire service to learn firefighting skills.

In partnership with Kingston Fire and Rescue, Girls in Gear is a first for Kingston: a four-day camp offered by Women of Fire YGK, a group of women in the fire service from Kingston and the surrounding area, supporting a diverse and inclusive fire service. 

The goal of the camp is to empower girls in Kingston and the area and to promote firefighting as a viable and rewarding career. The 30 lucky participants were selected from over 60 young women who applied to the program. 

Former deputy chief of Kingston Fire & Rescue, Melanie Jones, who just took over as Brockville’s Fire Chief this summer, was a member of Women of Fire YGK and was on hand to explain that the camp is entirely run by volunteers. 

“The committee came together to pull the camp together,” explained Jones, noting that this was a Kingston initiative, but that there were also volunteers from Stone Mills and her own Brockville department on hand to help out. “Some of them are teaching, and we also invited other instructors to come and teach the classes… Our training division has overseen everything to make sure that all the lesson plans and activities have been reviewed properly.”

Each camper had the chance to rappel down a wall with a trainer by her side every step of the way. This camper was nervous at first, but soon overcame her fears. Photo by Michelle Dorey Forestell/Kingstonist.
Celebration of an achievement. Photo by Michelle Dorey Forestell/Kingstonist.

“We’re trying to give the girls the experience so that, whether they choose firefighting or not, they’ve had a chance to try it,” Jones said, explaining that often young women don’t know that firefighting is a viable career for them. “In their 20s or whenever, they might feel like this is actually a viable opportunity, as opposed to just being [an] automatic, ‘Oh no, that’s not for me.’ The whole thing is to try and empower them and give them opportunities.”

Thanks to generous sponsors, the camp was able to welcome 30 participants aged 15-18 this year, completely free of charge. Girls in Gear has been designed with no registration fees to ensure there are no barriers to application.

Jones explained that Girls in Gear provides an opportunity for teens to interact and work side by side with strong women who are role models in the fire service, mentoring confidence and leadership and displaying excellence in community service. This kind of access to learning firefighting, and exposure to all divisions within the fire service, is made available free of charge through the camp to many who would otherwise not have that access. The hard work and challenges teach self-confidence and give the campers the strength to pursue whatever they can imagine — including a career in the fire service.

Jones proudly showed a photo on her cellphone of a camper rappelling down a wall with her instructor. “Isn’t this great? And look: ponytails!” she exclaimed, indicating the matching hairstyles spilling from the bottom of the girls’ helmets, something that might not have been seen often in decades past.

The girls participated in numerous learning exercises, including rappelling, fighting car fires, navigating an indoor maze to get used to confined spaces, doing a simulated search and rescue in a dark indoor environment, using hydrants, and operating fire hoses and extraction tools.

Over the week the girls have bonded and lost much of the shyness they had on the first day, which is evident as they whoop and cheer for each other as they learn to rappel down a building like Spiderman. “They’ve really been supportive of each other,” said Jones.

The camp ran from Monday, Jul. 17 and ended yesterdat, Thursday, Jul. 20, 2023, with the girls participating in a fun version of the FireFit Challenge.

Campers wear red shirts while the committee for ‘Women of Fire YGK’ are in blue and other volunteers in bright green t-shirts. Submitted photo.

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