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The program exposes women to fire service jobs and vast firefighting career opportunities.

COURTESY PHOTO - Instructors and participants at the last Fire Up Bootcamp Academy pose for a photo in Gaston. This year's event is scheduled for Aug. 21-22 at Gaston Station 11.Local fire agencies will hold a two-day academy next month for women interested in or seeking a career fighting fires.

This year's Fire Up Bootcamp Academy is scheduled for Aug. 21 and Aug. 22, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., at the Gaston Fire District's Station 11. It's open to women 18 years or older with an interest in fire service, learning the trade, or becoming a firefighter. Participants will join the camp with no or limited firefighting experience.

"The program usually ignites something in the individual, and they're like 'yes,' or it's like, 'OK, this is something that I don't want to do,'" Cornelius Fire Department captain and academy instructor Ila Borders said. "They're able to have that exposure and figure that out."

Over the course of two days, attendees will be put through a mini-fire academy that allows both hands-on training and techniques using firefighting gear, equipment and tools, as well as physical fitness. The academy is instructed by female firefighters from various departments throughout the region, giving attendees a firsthand knowledge of both the mental and physical aspects of the firefighting business.

"A lot of women never got into the firefighting world because they thought it's was all about being a 6-foot, 200-pound, physical person, and that's usually what stops a lot of women from getting into the fire service," Borders said. "And it is physical — but a lot of it is technique, and we show them that here."

As part of the academy, participants will complete the following tasks:

• Wearing firefighting equipment

• Pulling and reloading fire hose and operating nozzles

• Connecting to fire hydrants

• Raising and lowering ladders

• Using forcible entry tools

• Cutting apart cars

• Climbing a ladder truck

Additionally, they'll get to fight fires, start a chainsaw, throw ladders, and learn some basic emergency medical services (EMS) in an effort to give attendees a taste of the actual job.

"We expose them to what they would be doing in this job, including EMS," Borders said. "So, maybe if they don't want to become a firefighter, they become a paramedic instead. We want them to see it all."

Borders, who started with the Long Beach Fire Department in California in 2004 and spent time working in Phoenix before coming to Oregon, has 16 years of experience in the job. According to the National Fire Protection Association, women make up less than 10% of the U.S. fire service.

Borders said it's the goal of this program to recruit more women to the profession, and over the program's three years, it has done just that.

Since Gaston's first academy, 12 of the 16 initial participants have gone on to get positions as either paid or volunteer firefighters.

"It's really an eye-opener for people," Borders said. "When people look into a fire truck, they don't see women, and I've gone on calls where people are like, 'Oh, you're a firefighter? I didn't know women could do this.' That's what we expose them to."

One thing that Borders did say was difficult for her when getting into the firefighting game, in addition to many others, was the adapting to the fire department culture. On-duty firefighters are typically at the station for a minimum of 24 hours at a time, and regardless of whether you're male or female, that takes some getting used to.

"It's about how you get along with others and what's expected of you," Borders said. "That's something that I had to learn at the very beginning, and I wish I would've known beforehand. So, we try to teach them that also."

Ultimately, the academy is about recruiting, and Borders says the true value in this program is that there's really nothing else like it. One can find camps for 14- to 18-year-olds, but their target demographic is 20- to 40-year-olds who are either looking for a career opportunity or change.

"There are so many great opportunities out there," Borders said. "Let us show you what this is about."

The academy is accepting the first 20 applicants. Those interested can sign up or find more information on its website at fireupbootcamp.com.


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