FOREST GROVE, Ore. (KOIN) — Across the United States, the overwhelming majority of firefighters are men. But some fire departments in Washington County are working hard to bring more women into the fold.
The Gaston Fire District, Forest Grove Fire & Rescue and Cornelius Fire Department hosted the inaugural “Fire Up Boot Camp” in July. Over the course of two days, firefighters from across the region trained a group of 16 women on the fundamentals of firefighting.
Those who attended the camp got to cut open cars with hydraulic tools, put out flames with hose lines, break down doors, connect hoses to fire hydrants and much more.
One of the camp’s teachers was Amber Harris, a volunteer firefighter at the Cornelius Fire Department. She’s one of 6 female firefighters in the Forest Grove, Cornelius and Gaston departments.
She said she decided to join the Cornelius team two-and-a-half years ago despite not knowing anyone in the fire service.
“When I had that ‘aha’ moment — this is a path I could take — it was amazing and I’ve never gone back,” she said.
For Harris, getting to help at the Fire Up Boot Camp was beneficial in more ways than one.
“It’s so cool to see the girls have their very first experience,” she said. “It’s all part of the learning and it all helps us be better firefighters and better women.”
The firefighters hope the camp, which they plan to hold every summer, will inspire women to pursue whichever career they want with confidence.
“We want them to be empowered, whether they select the fire service or go into a different profession,” said Alia Hoshall, a fire engineer at the Hillsboro Fire Department.
There are more than 1 million fighters in the United States but as of two years ago, only 7% were female. So for Hoshall, a training camp that focuses on women in the service is important.
“I certainly have a lot of guys who are compassionate — we love our guys — but there’s a different lens of seeing things and I think in the diversity that we have in our fire departments we want all the lenses,” Hoshall said. “So women can really offer a different viewpoint on things.”
Five years ago, Kylie Marble of Forest Grove survived a flesh-eating bacteria. She joined the camp to learn more about being a volunteer firefighter.
“I am so incredibly happy to be alive and be able to be doing all of this,” she said. “I want to show and prove to myself that I can do it.”
Another woman at the camp, Amber Morgan, wanted to show her kids what it means to be a “good, solid member of the community.”
The 41-year-old mother who lives in Gaston joined the Gaston Fire District academy after completing the camp and is on track to be a volunteer firefighter by January.
“Anything is possible if you put your mind to it and absolutely strive for it, anything is possible,” she said. “So, at 41, here I am.”
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