“Even if they don’t go into the first responder role, they can learn to overcome any obstacle – whatever they want to do. They just learn to be overcomers.”
ST. LOUIS — National Fire Protection says less than 5% of career firefighters across the country are women. One camp in the St. Louis area hopes to change that.
Harper Wood, a recent graduate of Eureka High School, is attending Camp Fury for a second year.
“It’s really fun to see what all you can push yourself to do,” she said.
These girls are turning up the heat and putting out fires along the ranks of elite female firefighters and law enforcement officers across the St. Louis metro area.
This year, a record number of volunteers are lending a hand.
We spoke with Wendy Sanginiti, a police officer with St. Charles Police Department and a volunteer at the camp.
“Even if they don’t go into the first responder role, they can learn to overcome any obstacle – whatever they want to do,” she said. “They just learn to be overcomers.”
From putting out car fires, to search and rescue, these girls are doing it all and teamwork is the name of the game.
The girls take turns going through a rigorous obstacle course at the back of the St. Louis County training facility.
“You might come to an obstacle where you’re like, ‘this is really difficult, I need my team for this,’ then you’re going to ask people for help,” An instructor told the group.
About half of the campers are returners.
“I came back because I want to pursue a career as a police officer and a medical malpractice defending or prosecuting attorney and I’ve met so many wonderful people here and I love just getting to try things that I wouldn’t get to try normally,” said Elizabeth Tollison, a 15-year-old sophomore at Washington High School.
“I’m going to be a firefighter paramedic and I’m going to St. Louis Community to start,” Wood said.
Twenty-five girls are reporting for camp. This is the highest enrollment in camp history, and these girls are following some pretty big footsteps.
We spoke with Katie Carr, a firefighter and paramedic with Metro West Fire Protection District and co-founder Camp Fury STL.
“We’ve had 125 girls go through the program over the past six years. We have a handful that have become paramedics, working on ambulances in the St. Louis area,” Carr said. “We have one that has become a police officer through the academy and now works in the Kansas City area. We also have a handful of girls that have pursued forensic science.”
“You just get to conquer as many things as you can and you get to learn so many life skills,” Tollison, said.
Campers told 5 On Your Side training alongside women, who are in the fields they hope to enter, has made all the difference.
The girls get to ask questions about what it’s really like working as a first responder. We asked which questions were most common.
“We can teach them all basic intro firefighting and law enforcement skills but what they really want to dig deep about is how we do it all. How are we wives, firefighters, police officers, mothers – and how we make it all work in our personal lives,” Carr said. “These aren’t just questions you can ask strangers… and if you’ve never seen a female firefighter, you wouldn’t know who to ask.”
University of Houston reports 1 in 5 female firefighters develop PTSD and contemplate suicide at higher rates.
NBC reports female firefighters also face added mental stress from gender discrimination, plus an increased risk of miscarriage and other reproductive problems from repeated exposure to smoke and other toxins.