Maple Ridge firefighting camp empowers young women

Camp Ignite director and Maple Ridge firefighter Mary Foster wants to see more female career firefighters. (Colleen Flanagan/THE NEWS)Camp Ignite director and Maple Ridge firefighter Mary Foster wants to see more female career firefighters. (Colleen Flanagan/THE NEWS)
The girls will earn fire extinguisher certification while at Camp Ignite in Maple Ridge. (David Harcus Photography)The girls will earn fire extinguisher certification while at Camp Ignite in Maple Ridge. (David Harcus Photography)
Camp Ignite attendees will get to try on firefighting gear as well as self-contained breathing apparatuses. (David Harcus Photography)Camp Ignite attendees will get to try on firefighting gear as well as self-contained breathing apparatuses. (David Harcus Photography)
While the jaws of life tool can be heavy, girls are more than capable of learning the proper technique to use it. (David Harcus Photography)While the jaws of life tool can be heavy, girls are more than capable of learning the proper technique to use it. (David Harcus Photography)

Maple Ridge firefighter Mary Foster was working in the stock market before a fateful run edged her towards her current career.

While attending a running club, she met Jennifer Dawkins, one of the founders of Camp Ignite, an all-female firefighting camp.

“I asked her what she did, and she said she was a firefighter. And I thought, huh, I never thought of that. I wasn’t too happy with my financial career, so thought ‘maybe I’ll switch,’ and I did,” Foster recounted.

Since the switch, Foster has been active in helping show young girls that firefighting can be a viable career for them.

“I started volunteering at Camp Ignite, helping out on the odd day, and now I’m a director, as well as secretary treasurer, and I’m full immersed in it,” she said.

This year’s camp – which is the event’s 10th anniversary – will take place on Aug. 9 at the Justice Institute in Maple Ridge.

Twenty nine girls from Grades 10 – 12 will come from as far away as Prince George, Kelowna, and Vancouver island to take part in the one day camp.

READ MORE: Pitt Meadows teens inspired by Camp Ignite

Ordinarily the camp would take place over the course of a full weekend. But due to COVID-19, it will be significantly altered.

Despite that, the attendees will still get to take part in a lot of interesting and fun activities, Foster said.

“They’ll find out what it’s like to hold a fire hose, climb ladders, try the gear on, and try holding the jaws of life,” she said, pointing out the girls will really get a feel for the heaviness of the tools.

She noted the girls are often empowered by the experience when they realize they can perform a job that is typically thought of as quite male-centric.

“We all have this idea that women are equal, but media tells us differently,” Foster said.

“We still have princess culture and that doesn’t lend well to male-dominated jobs, which we are perfectly capable of doing. We just have to believe that we’re capable of doing it, and have the right mentors.”

Overcoming fears is a big part of the camp.

“Most years, we usually have a rope component as well, so we have them rappelling off a building, which is quite a scary thing for some people,” Foster said.

“And I don’t think we’ve had a class yet where anybody didn’t do it, even if they were terrified, which is pretty neat.”

In past years, the campers would often put out a fire from inside a building, but due to COVID-19 parameters this year, they might be limited to extinguishing one from outside.

READ MORE: Sparking the flame for female firefighters

Camp co-founder and director Jennifer Dawkins said some of the campers have gone on to firefighting gigs all over B.C.

“Some of these girls, they just want the challenge of what’s typically a whole weekend, and the mentorship and inspiration, but there are more and more each year that are doing this because they are definitely interested in learning about firefighting as a career,” she said.

“We have one that’s been hired in Vancouver, one that’s been hired in Burnaby, one that’s a volunteer in Mission, and a couple who have become forest firefighters as well.”

Dawkins pointed out the average hiring age for firefighters is about 27.

“So that’s putting us right at that time now that we’ll see more of these young women who we’ve been around for 10 years become firefighters.”



ronan.p.odoherty@blackpress.ca

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