Mike Boechler watched as six high schoolers awaited their turn to rappel down a 36-foot hose tower.
The students, who were apart of the Port Moody Fire Department’s inaugural junior firefighting academy in April, visited the Inlet Centre Fire Hall to learn a little about what it takes to become a firefighter
Boechler, lieutenant of community outreach and fire life safety, oversaw the drill — which he described as the scariest of the day. It involved roughly a half dozen students from Port Moody high schools.
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But one student stood out.
Charlee, the only female in the group, had consistently finished ahead in all the drills throughout the four-day camp. She helped her male counterparts if they started to fall behind. She jumped at the chance to glide down the hose tower
“She was sort of the leader of the group,” Boechler said. “Which was awesome.”
Last summer, Charlee represented the Port Moody Fire Department at Camp Ignite, a mentorship program for teenage girls in grades 11 and 12 who are interested in pursuing a career in firefighting.
The three-day camp is sponsored by various firefighting units in the Lower Mainland. Port Moody has partnered with the non-profit organization for nearly a decade.
“Charlee was the one who had the most experience because of doing Camp Ignite in her Grade 11 year,” Boechler said. “She was always first through the drills and showing the five males who were with her what to do.”
Earlier this week, Port Moody Fire and Rescue announced that they have sponsored another aspiring firefighter to Camp Ignite, Sasha Faris, who is also a student in School District 43.
Faris wrote a letter that stood out among the four other applicants to the program. And excelled in the interview process.
Boechler said Faris’ compassion — a quality he says is integral for all firefighters — was a factor that motivated the Port Moody Fire Department to send her to Camp Ignite.
“She wants to help people that are misunderstood and bring that compassion,” Boechler said.
“Where I would just run into a situation to try and fix things, Sasha seems like she would look at it through a different lens and be such an asset to a fire department in that way.”
Women in firefighting
Port Moody Fire partnered with Camp Ignite to help more women develop a career in firefighting.
Typically, women aren’t well represented in fire halls, Boechler said.
“I think it’s a cultural thing,” he said. “It could be intimidating for a female to do a recruitment or physical with a whole bunch of men representing the fire department.”
Kirk Heaven, Port Moody’s deputy fire chief, added that over the past 20 years he’s noticed more interest from women who want to become firefighters.
“Camp Ignite gives them a bit of an idea of what a firefighter does,” he said.
The camp notably gives women the skills in hazmat operations, rope rescue situations, and how to extract people from an automobile.
Boechler said the fire department launched their junior firefighting program to further nurture the careers of aspiring young firefighters.
Faris, who goes to the same school as Charlee, mentioned that she felt a little intimidated about getting into firefighting. Boechler said that Camp Ignite, and their junior firefighting program, helped dispel some of those fears.
“Seeing the path to [firefighting] has [been] broken through,” he said.
Boechler expects Camp Ignite to teach Faris how to work with a new team and develop trust with a like-minded group of people.
“She’s going to be with girls she’s never met from all over the Lower Mainland,” he said. “I think the biggest lesson, and it shows in the fire department, is when you have to count on someone and work together as a team.”
This year, the camp is being hosted by the Maple Ridge, Vancouver, and Township of Langley fire departments.
The Port Moody Fire Department is also in the process of hiring new roles and looking at multiple women to fill positions within the department. Currently, Port Moody has two women who are on staff — both of whom are volunteers.
Heaven is hopeful that, one day, Fairs may be interested to join their team.
“It would be really neat if she was wearing a Port Moody fire fighting uniform.”