Pure inspiration! LAFD Girls Camp. A real-life firefighter boot camp! It’s all about women helping women. Female firefighters in leadership roles, guiding and inspiring participants between the ages of 14 to 18 to take on L.A.’s bravest job and the ultimate challenge. It’s not just about becoming an elite firefighter. It’s so much more. Empowerment. Leadership. Opportunity. Showing young women they have the ability to achieve whatever they want. Join us for one day at the incredible LAFD Girls Camp.
Top female firefighters from across the state devote their own time and money to firefighter boot camp
Successful female firefighters from all over California, give up their time, on their own dime, to help young women achieve their goals. Taking on challenges to break through a male dominated profession, reach the highest ranks and let their imaginations soar to unimaginable levels.
After a two-and-a-half-year hiatus because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Los Angeles Fire Department’s Girls Camp returned to the famous Drill Tower 81 in Panorama City, California on October 1 & 2, 2022.
The two-day firefighter boot camp was led by powerhouse female firefighters, including paramedics, captains and history making fire chiefs! Plus, a few male firefighters on hand to support the camp. All of whom dedicated themselves to this extraordinary mission.
Nicole Gonzalez, a camper from San Bernardino County says “All of them have inspired me. They showed me their journey on how they became a firefighter. It makes me more excited to see what’s coming up next in the future.”
The girls who participated in this once in a lifetime event are between the ages of 14 and 18 and mostly from the L.A. area and other parts of Southern California. Seeing first-hand what it’s like to become a firefighter. They got to put on firefighter gear, use actual firefighter tools, see what it’s like to be in a search and rescue situation, climb aerial ladders that go up to the third floor and so much more!
LAFD Firefighter/Paramedic Samantha Ralston instructed the girls in search and rescue, taking them through the dark concrete walls of the famous Drill Tower, adding a sense of danger to this unique firefighter boot camp. “I have seven years on the LAFD, we did similar things, in the academy we also did confidence course in our full turnouts to make sure we were comfortable in our gear while doing searches of buildings.”
As for how many ladies graduated in her class she says, “I had five in my class. I was one of five!” As for the drills Samantha says, “It was difficult. But I knew I wanted to be a firefighter for a while. I trained and prepped for it so, I knew what I was getting myself into. It’s one of the harder things I’ve done but, I figured out how to get it done.”
LAFD’s Battalion Chief Kristine Larson’s inspirational rise in the ranks
LAFD Battalion Chief Kristine Larson is an extraordinarily successful woman who’s made history in the LAFD. She’s the first African American to reach the highest of heights on the department. She’s the first African American female Captain I, Captain II, and Battalion Chief in LAFD history. Kristine heads the Girls Camp program and is the president of the Los Angeles Women in the Fire Service. She says she started like everyone else.
“Everyone starts as a firefighter, over the years I decided to promote. That’s how I ended up here, everyone takes a different career path,” she says. “People want to drive, people want to be inspectors, people want to fly helicopters. Everyone takes their own path in the fire department. Everyone gets to choose what they want to do. Work at harbor, want to be a boat pilot, diver. That’s the beautiful part of a big organization, there’s so many different career opportunities for you.”
The Chief says the firefighter camp is about much more than becoming a firefighter. “You know all the girls coming to camp is about empowering them, we don’t know if they’re going to be a firefighter. We’re telling them this is a possibility, what we’re telling them by having female mentors out there, the leader of each station being females, they can have someone to look up to as a role model and know if they chose a career in the fire department there are other women out there and if they don’t at least they got to try and do things that most people in the real world don’t get to do!”
El Segundo Fire Chief Deena Lee on building self-esteem and confidence
El Segundo Fire Chief Deena Lee was teaching the girls how to climb the aerial ladder and to make it to the top. “I’m giving back. I’ve help out here five or six years ago, with the girls’ camp and it really inspired me. All these departments need to hold these girls’ camps because it showed me that even if the girls don’t want to be firefighters, they can be whatever they want to be, it just builds up their self-esteem and confidence, and they need to see other women in that position, they have to see it, to be it!” she says. “I was the first female chief in El Segundo in the South Bay and now Chief [Kristen] Crowley here at LAFD and we’re just going to keep rising in the ranks until we have a lot more women chiefs.”
From Camper to Cadet to Firefighter
22-year-old LAFD Probationary Firefighter Kathy Perez says she was about 15 or 16 years old when she first joined the firefighter camp. “I came through and wore the pink shirts. I wanted to see what it was like to get my hands on the tools. It was cool meeting firefighters and working with tools, great to get that experience.” Perez took this all very seriously since high school.
“I went from being a cadet, made sure I was doing good in school. I wanted to make sure I was still following my dream. I was in high school at that time I knew EMT would be offered through community college and took advantage of that. I went to community college as a senior in high school, I took my EMT there, I was going to high school EMT at night, I had my mom drive us everywhere! Then I was always busy reading, never days off, on those days off, always long days for me. From here I got my EMT. This could be my stepping stone to applying to the fire department, I went to college to Cal State Long Beach. At the time there I focused on physical fitness, ROTC with the army, rowing team, I didn’t want to pursue an army officer career. I knew I wanted fire career…It wasn’t easy. There’s lots of things I had to see on my own,” Kathy says. “The biggest thing I always tell myself – don’t give up!”
“From college I went to the army reserves basic training, right before COVID. It was winter when I went. I knew joining the military would help me with paramilitary, help me stay disciplined and have a good life foundation.”
Kathy says, “We’re preparing the next generation…teach them what we know, make sure we can guide them if they need help, be around and make a big impact in their lives.”
14-year-old Saraiah Quiroz from Upland, California loved meeting the female role models at the firefighter camp saying, “It’s really empowering and inspiring. They were telling us their stories about becoming firefighters and how when they were younger women weren’t firefighters, so it was like when they found out women could be firefighters, wow, I could do that! It was really empowering and inspiring.”
Firefighter camp builds courage and confidence
Sacramento Fire Captain Sharon McIntyre who made the trip from Northern California to this special firefighter boot camp, showed girls how to use a chainsaw and cut through roofs. She says this whole event was inspirational for her. “It’s a mental hurdle you have to overcome. But physically you have the capability, a little technique and a lot of passion, they see they are far more capable than they think they are. First and foremost, we’re trying to teach them confidence. Believe in themselves and their ability.”
In the end Battalion Chief Larson says, “The challenge for most females is that this is a non-traditional job, most females don’t know this is a job that is available to them. You can’t be it, if you can’t see it! If you don’t see a female riding on an engine, you don’t know this is a possibility. There are other women doing the profession.”
El Segundo Fire Chief Lee ended the day with this advice for the girls, “You are stronger than you think you are, keep showing up and stepping up and your courage is your super power. You can do anything, even become a fire chief!”
By Charles Stewart
For more information visit the LAFD Girls Camp.
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