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Photos: Camp Ignite aims to inspire future firefighters and dare girls to dream

Teenage girls from across B.C. learn firefighting skills and teamwork at three-day camp in New West, Vancouver and Abbotsford

Camp Ignite aims to spark an interest in firefighting among teenage girls – and to inspire them to follow their dreams no matter what career path they pursue.

New Westminster, Vancouver and Abbotsford fire departments hosted this year’s three-day camp, which introduced 27 teenagers to the world of firefighting.

“An end goal of the camp, at its foundation, has always been to empower girls, so that they could know that they could be anything that they wanted to be, with enough work, experience, exposure and that kind of thing,” said Capt. Kathy Ius of New Westminster Fire and Rescue Services. “It’s presenting them with alternative careers.”

Camp Ignite kicked off at the Queensborough fire hall on Friday, Aug. 5, before, moving on to fire halls in Vancouver (Day 2) and Abbotsford (Day 3).

Ius said New Westminster Fire and Rescue Service developed a variety of activities that were meant to be fun, challenging and informative.

“As an example, what we did in New West is we exposed them to our tower aerial operations,” she said. “They got to climb the tower and get into the bucket of the tower and operate the tower.”

Camp participants also got to try their hand at hose handling – and that’s no easy feat.

“We had a hose handling station where they learned the ergonomics of positioning yourself. It's not a garden hose. It weighs a lot, and it's unwieldy,” Ius said. “Auto extrication – they got to use and see tools they’ve probably never seen before and use them to cut cars, create openings.”

The New West venue also included a fitness station, where firefighters talked about the importance of staying fit and healthy, and a team-building challenge station.

Ius said it’s always great to see the connections girls make with their peers at Camp Ignite.

“When they all first arrive, they don't know each other. But within that first day, solid bonds are being made. A lot of it is in part because of the activities that we do, which intrinsically employ teamwork and trust, and relationship building. So I think that there's that piece that connects with these girls as well,” she said. “The sort of by-product of all this is that they get to see and do some of the things that we (firefighters) do.”

Ius, a suppression captain and training officer in New Westminster, said fire departments like participating in the program because of its educational value and outreach components. This year marked the third time New Westminster has helped host the camp.

“It’s a great experience for the department to have overall,” Ius said. “There's nothing more satisfying than mentoring and promoting youth. I think those things all combined is what makes it so attractive for a department to host.”

In its first years, most of the camp’s participants came from the Lower Mainland, but it now attracts girls from the Interior, Kootenays, Vancouver Island and other parts of the province.

“As part of the group that first started it, we couldn't be happier that it's been as successful as it's become, and so much so that it's going to morph into separate camps throughout the province,” Ius said. “That says a lot about the hard work that was put in by all the members that have seen the program to fruition.”

Ius, a former director with Camp Ignite, has been involved in the program since it started 12 years ago. She said it began after a couple of women firefighters heard about a similar program being offered in the United States.

“That kind of inspired one of them to think about it,” she said. “Then a group of six of us got together, and literally sat around a table and talked about it. It just grew from there.”

More information about Camp Ignite can be found at

Follow Theresa McManus on Twitter @TheresaMcManus