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High School Girls Get Hands-On Firefighting Training

The unmistakable sound of a chain saw digging through wood was one of the first noises that greeted people entering the Santa Clara Fire Training Facility on Walsh Avenue in Santa Clara. The whump of an axe digging into a block of wood and the gushing sounds of water streaming from fire hoses played into the cacophony of firefighting music.

The commotion was part of the NorCal First Alarm Girls Fire Camp, May 4 – 5.

This Fire Camp was just the second one ever held and was attended by 52 girls ranging in age from 14 to 18 from 32 cities across California.


According to Diane Hendry, a Division Chief with the Fremont Fire Department, the purpose of the program is to “Build a base of having more women in the fire service.

“This the first year of the program and our second camp,” continued Hendry. “The first one was held in October and the Fremont Fire Department was the host. [Santa Clara] Fire Captain Jennifer Panko is the Incident Commander for this Fire Camp.”

The Fire Camps received a wide range of support — they are staffed by 115 active duty and retired women firefighters representing 33 departments from all over Bay Area and Los Angeles. A few are from as far as Alaska, Texas and Hawaii.

Held over the course of two days, the camp offered girls the chance to get hands-on training in the use of actual firefighting tools and equipment. The Fire Camp also helps inspire young women to recognize they can be anything they want to be, even firefighters.

The hands-on training was broken up into different areas each focusing on specialized techniques used by firefighters. Trainings included climbing the 100-foot aerial ladder and using an axe and chainsaw. They also learned how to conduct a search and rescue, how to use a SCBA (Self-Contained Breather Apparatus) and received training on wildland firefighting.

Although not everyone climbs a 100-foot ladder, wields a chain saw, or works as part of a line of people moving a hose forward and backwards as part of a regular routine, safety was one of the key fundamentals stressed during the camp — safety for yourself and your fellow students and firefighters.

With the enthusiasm for the camps, more are in the works. The next camp will be hosted by San Francisco Fire in the fall. The NorCal Women in the Fire Service’s goal is to host two camps a year in the Bay Area. Any fire agencies wishing to host a camp should visit the NorCal Women in the Fire Service’s website,

For more information on the Fire Camp itself, visit


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