SALT LAKE CITY — While many teenagers were likely unwinding from school on Saturday, some Salt Lake City girls donned “turnout” gear and got a glimpse into a day in the life of a firefighter.
“I think that they should have the same goals and opportunities that anyone would have. I think there’s a lot of stereotypes with who people believe become firefighters,” said Susanna Alley, paramedic-firefighter with the Salt Lake City Fire Department. “And for a long time, girls really haven’t been taught or told that this is something that you can aspire to.”
That’s one of the reasons the department began holding “Camp Athena” four years ago. They also put on a “Camp Prometheus” for boys.
It’s the one day during the year when teens who sign up can get a chance to practice skills like putting out fires, rappelling from a building and carrying injured crewmates. Fourteen young women turned out for Saturday’s camp.
Julie Garcia, 18, attended it for her second year in a row after learning about the program at Salt Lake Community College.
“I thought it was going to be hard because of the heavy stuff and stuff like that, and then I really enjoyed it. So I decided to come here this year and tried again. And I love doing this,” she said.
“It’s just fun. Even though it’s really hard. You get to turn off fire. You get to go through mazes. You get to communicate with other people, and you get to just do fun things,” Garcia said. “And that’s the whole point of this program, is just to have fun.”
It inspires her to someday join the fire service, she said.
Alley, who just celebrated her 12-year anniversary with the department, said she became a firefighter because “I always liked the opportunity to help people and to be hopefully a positive aspect of somebody’s day. And I think a lot of firefighters, they do join fire service with the intent to help people.”
Her older brother, also a firefighter, encouraged her, she recalled.
“And it’s just been such a fun occupation. It’s dynamic. It is inspiring. There’s challenges every day. And my current position, I’m in a role where we get to be creative. We have a lot of forward-thinking projects like hosting a camp for girls. It’s a great avenue for these girls to learn firefighting skills. It’s a great opportunity for myself and then everybody out here on the drill ground to be role models,” Alley said.
Though women historically have been underrepresented in the field, she says women are now being portrayed more as firefighters in the media and that’s helping inspire women to join the service.
She said female paramedics can often uniquely reassure other women who need help.
Though male and female firefighters can have different strengths, their job is the same. That’s true for the Salt Lake teen firefighting camps.
“We don’t change it. People have said, ‘Well, is the camp that you do for the girls the same?’ It is. It’s the same schedule and the same expectations,” Alley said.
Hailey Olsen, 16, said “I’ve just wanted to be a firefighter my whole life, because I want to help people when I’m older.”
Of the camp, she said, “everybody makes it fun. Our supervisor’s really awesome and makes it fun. But everything’s been fun. I love doing everything.”
Emma Harris, 16, said she went to the camp because her dad’s a firefighter.
“And I also really want to help people. I’m really interested in the medical field,” she explained.
Harris’ favorite part of Saturday’s camp was “putting out the fires.”
The department also runs a “Cadet” youth program for high school kids ages 14-18. The groups meet once a week to learn more about becoming firefighters, Alley said.
Additional information can be found at slc.gov/fire/youth/.