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WILD SKILLS: 2023 Junior Wildland Firefighting Day Camp

SheJumps & USFS partnered to host a Junior Wildland Firefighting event for young girls to learn the fundamentals of wildland firefighting in Sisters, Oregon.


Right-Left Renae Aigner: IA Attack Central OR Dispatch, Lauren Clark: Columbia River Gorge Fire Management, Abby Harman: Newberry Division Cabin Lake WFM, Brittney Jensen: Metolius WFM, Hayley Johnston: Columbia River Gorge Fire Management, Jess Mondello: Newberry Division Senior Firefighter.


 

On May 20th SheJumps and the United States Forest Service (USFS) hosted Junior Wildland Firefighting at Scout Lake Campground in Sisters, Oregon. This full-day Wild Skills camp offered 32 girls aged 8-14 an opportunity to learn fundamental outdoor skills and insights into the world of wildland fire. The programming was made possible through a grant received by Fire Management Officer Andrew Myhra, based in Sisters Ranger District.


Along with SheJumps volunteers, real working women of wildland fire joined in to lead the rotating stations.


“The more girls see women in positions that have been historically male-dominated, the more they know it's a possibility for them," said Christa Nash-Webber, Oregon Event Coordinator. "They too can dig fire lines, they too can drive rigs that bring water to the front-lines, they too can educate people about fire management and safety.”


She noted that only 27% of positions with the USFS are filled by women. “With fires becoming such a bigger part of our lives on the west coast, forest management and wildfire management is becoming increasingly important–and I think it's imperative to have women in important positions making important decisions," she added.


Jenny Alexander, Fire Prevention Tech from Ochoco National Forest passing out paint pens to get the day started.


The program mimicked a real wildland fire incident. The morning began with a briefing from Incident Commander Carissa Silvis that included weather outlook, the day’s mission, and goals for fire suppression. Participants were then divided into age-based teams, each led by a squad boss.


“This is an opportunity to show young women the potential for careers in wildland fire,” said Silvis, who’s worked in fire since 2008. “There are women in fire, and hopefully this event creates a comfortable transition if any choose that path. It’s fun!”


Carissa Silvis, Fire Prevention Tech from Columbia River Gorge Fire Management and Incident Commander for the day.


Throughout the day, the teams engaged in a series of hands-on stations throughout the campground. The stations covered a range of essential topics including first aid, teamwork and communication, weather and fire behavior, and navigation.


Jenny Alexander lends a hand to sling a shoulder.


At the first aid station, participants learned basic splinting and bleeding control skills as well as understanding hydration and recognizing signs of heat stress. Lots of excitement was shown for the fake blood.


“They’re learning very useful skills. This is their first introduction to things like slinging a shoulder, applying pressure on wounds and finding a pulse,” said Katie Taylor, a second year wildland firefighter in the Newberry Division. “Growing up, there was never anything like this. Seeing all these women here, I’d be inspired. It’d propel me sooner to join wildland fire.”



Sarge Welge, a Metolius WFM squad leader in Newberry Division, has been working in wildland fire since 2015, including on Winema Hotshots.

“We’ve been trying hard for years to increase diversity in fire. A lot of people don’t know this is a career,” said Welge. “Not many women apply for these types of jobs so there’s a small applicant pool. With programs like these, we hope it increases that number in the future.”


Welge strongly believes in equity in wildlandfire.


“Someone once asked me how many women would be enough on a crew. I replied, ‘Until there are 9,’” said Welge, referring to a Ruth Bader Ginsburg quote. “If all nine supreme court justices can be men, why couldn’t they also be women? There’s space for all of them to be women.”


For Welge, the same sentiment rings true for wildland fire.


“When I got into leadership positions, I was able to watch firefighters learn and grow their skills. I also watched women gain confidence in the field,” she said. “I make a difference by being out there. Them seeing someone that looks like them in a leadership position means something.”



For the teamwork and communication station Hayley Johnston, Britanny Jensen, and Megan Saylors lead the participants through a game of telephone to demonstrate the importance of clear communication. After a few rounds, a radio was added into the mix and the participants were able to give each other commands such as ‘hop on one foot,’ or ‘stick your tongue out.’


Lauren Clark and Abby Harman lead the weather and fire behavior station.


The navigation station was taught by Candice Kutrosky, Renae Aigner, and Jessica Mondello. It included finding direction with and without a compass, as well as getting familiar with topographic maps.



“A lot of these skills are not second nature to people, especially in a digital world. It’s important to learn how to get about if a device fails, or there’s no phone or GPS,” said Aigner, emphasizing wildland firefighting is far from an unskilled job.


“I never knew about wildland firefighting at their age, coming from the East Coast you didn’t hear about wildfires,” added Aigner. “If someone would've told me it’d be my career path ten years ago I would’ve replied ‘Naw, not me.’ This program is giving them a path at a young age. If we can do it, you can do it.






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