"We realized that traditional recruiting measures for looking for qualified women for the fire department haven't been working. So, several women in the fire department got together and said we'll start at the high school level and we'll get them interested early on and break down some stereotypes."
Engine Operator Kim Phillips says that was the idea that came to be known as Camp Houston Fire, an annual week-end in which junior and senior high school girls get an idea of what it's like to be a fire fighter. Camp begins Friday after school the girls get a chance to try on all the gear and breath through an air-pack, they when they come back early Saturday morning classes begin in areas critical to fire fighting:
"Water supplies, very critical; repelling, forcible entry, breaking down doors, confined space; 'cause in fires things are close and tight. We do search and rescue. Some of the indoor classes we do are hazardous materials, EMS, that's 85% of what we do in the fire service, safety and physical fitness."
To pique the interest of young women in the fire service, Phillips and other HFD women go to area schools.
"We show them us. We show them we're mothers and sisters and wives and girlfriends. We show them that we're normal well adjusted people, for the most part, and that they can do it too. We explain to them our schedule. The benefits of being a fire fighter, the community service that you can participate in and if they want to do it, it is absolutely open to them."
The second Camp Houston Fire was held this weekend at HFD's training center by Hoby Airport with 20 girls, 21 attended last year. The girls are divided into teams of four. Each group has a mentor who can answer the more personal questions about what it's like to be a woman fire fighter.
"Where do you sleep, what do you wear, what's it like being a mom, those women will answer those questions, we have instructors set aside who are teaching them skills."
Skills like breaking down a door...most of the girls have never had to swing a sledge hammer. Jocelyn Morales, a junior at Morton Ranch High School liked force able entry and search and rescue, which takes place in a pitch black room.
"You went in on hands and knees, you had a partner and they depended on you to go in and you have to feel along the walls and find the victim and bring them out."
Jocelyn's has family members are fire fighters and police officers and in the military, and says this just may be the career for her.
Kathryn Aleman, a senior at Walltrip High school, was in last year's class and was back as a volunteer this year. She says she never would have thought about a fire service career without the presentation at her school. Her plan is to be a Houston fire fighter.
"When I came here it gave me a good sense of it and so now I really want to do it."
Kim Phillips says five members of the first class, last year want to join HFD, a 25% success rate that's she's thrilled about. Camp Houston Fire is a non-profit separate from HFD and all the men and women who are part of the training are all volunteers.For more information on the camp, visit Camp Houston Fire.com.
Images and video are from the Camp Houston Fire Website.