The Gaston Fire District is hosting the first-ever Fire-Up Bootcamp this weekend, an all-female firefighting training camp.
Although other female firefighting camps exist in the area, they are mostly focused on teenagers and younger girls. The Fire-Up Bootcamp is the area’s first for women 18 and older — those who are either interested in joining or are early in their careers in fire service or volunteering.
“People need to have role models, and there are just not a lot of women in the fire service,” said Ila Borders with Cornelius Fire Department, one of the camp’s instructors and organizers.
“There are some fire departments that do have 10% women and it’s just like, oh my gosh, it’s unheard of. We’re looking at usually around 3%.”
Matt Aalto is a lieutenant training officer for Gaston Fire District. He also helped organize the camp.
“It gives an opportunity to train, to learn, to share experiences together,” Aalto said. “This is why we’re holding it, so that women understand — ‘It’s for you and let us show you why.’”
Although the camp was held at the Gaston Fire District, the Forest Grove Fire and Rescue and the Cornelius Fire Department were additional hosts. Hillsboro Fire and Rescue and Clackamas Fire District #1 provided additional sponsorship.
The two-day bootcamp leads women through firefighting drills like gearing up, raising ladders, deploying hoses and extinguishing live fires.
“We’re going to give them a taste of putting on the gear and breaking some things and burning some things,” said Barbara Widlund, assistant chief at Clark County Fire District #3 and a camp instructor.
Instructors for the bootcamp are from both local and out-of-the-area fire departments, like Widlund from Clark County and also others from Tacoma and even Los Angeles City Fire.
Borders with Cornelius Fire Department said she hopes to see the event expand in the future.
“This year, since we’re in Gaston, we only had 16 spots, and we had over 60 applicants, so it’s really hard to turn people down,” she said. “Hopefully next year we’ll have it at a larger space so we can invite anyone else who wants to come.”
Borders said an important part of this camp is just showing female representation in firefighting.
“You see little girls, or even women, who are like, ‘I didn’t know that women could do this,’” Borders said. “So we’re trying to say, ‘Hey, we’re you. This is the most awesome profession in the world. Let’s share this with you and see if you get the firefighting bug also.’”