The free fire camp teaches young women fire service skills including wildland safety, fire hose use and more.

PMG PHOTO: JONATHAN VILLAGOMEZ - From left to right, Linda Casey, Maddi Ball, Rose Amberwood, Sorelle Bregman and Cierah Binder got the opportunity to check out the inside of a fire engine during the three-day Metro Fire Camp.Campers in Sherwood spent this past weekend learning and practicing important skills — after all, they will need them in one of society's most challenging, and recently relevant, professions.

PMG PHOTO: JONATHAN VILLAGOMEZ - Sofia Sorokina (left) and Sydney Sims (right) wrap up their 'smokey packs' in an exercise at the Tualatin Valley Fire & Rescue training facility in Sherwood.The Portland Metro Fire Camp was held this weekend at the Tualatin Valley Fire & Rescue Training Center in Sherwood. A second camp experience will take place in late August in Portland.

The camp is run by all-female firefighters, and attendees are young women aged 16 to 21. On July 30, the total headcount was 35 campers, according to TVF&R spokesperson Kim Haughn.

PMG PHOTO: JONATHAN VILLAGOMEZ - Pari McDonald (left) and Belle Raeburn (right) use a Halligan and a flat head axe to leverage a door open.The campers spent the weekend learning in classrooms from professionals and practicing skills like fire hose operation, wildland firefighting safety, fire hydrant use and more. They dressed in professional-grade gear, including boots, long pants with suspenders, helmets and gloves, and eye protection, depending on the activity.

TVF&R's training center provides ample space for the different activities. Haughn described the property as like an "adult playground."

Emily VanMeter is a lieutenant paramedic with TVF&R, and in her role as incident command for the fire camp, she watched over camper and counselor safety and ensured everything ran smoothly.

PMG PHOTO: JONATHAN VILLAGOMEZ - Emily VanMeter, a lieutenant paramedic with Tualatin Valley Fire & Rescue, served as incident command for the camp.VanMeter said firefighting didn't seem like a realistic career for her at a young age, and she didn't join the fire service until she was 33. She didn't grow up familiar with firefighting, and it was never introduced to her as something she could do.

"It was always kind of a guy's job. That's what you see in the media," VanMeter said. "And then when you see the engines and the trucks driving around, it's all a bunch of dudes.

"I think the camp became an opportunity to teach young girls that it is an opportunity for them and it is a career."

Venus Howard started as a camper in 2018. Then, she got an internship with Hood River Fire & EMS and an opportunity to be a counselor at the fire camp this year. PMG PHOTO: JONATHAN VILLAGOMEZ - Venus Howard, who was a previous camp attendee in 2018, is now a counselor at the Metro Fire Camp. She is currently an intern at Hood River Fire & EMS.Howard said that, as a woman in the industry, she feels like she's one of the pioneers starting something new.

There are definitely differences between people in the field, whether it's race, gender or something else, Howard said, but one of the biggest reasons she enjoys firefighting is the people with whom she works.

"The thing is, with those differences, they're not barriers. You learn to really listen and understand people," Howard said. "I feel like that when you're different in a field, it opens up the door to listen, respect and understand people."

If you're having a hard time in your job or career, Howard said, "keep on going."

The fire camp is also a great opportunity for young women to build confidence, VanMeter said — confidence in their own lives and to feel empowered to choose the career they want, even if it's a male-dominated field.

PMG PHOTO: JONATHAN VILLAGOMEZ - From left to right, Tara Richey, Hannah Watson and Sofia Sorokina finish a chainsaw startup exercise.

"Remembering when we were that age, you tend to be very self-conscious and worried about what people think. And when we all grew up, we never had anything like it. There was no girls camp for fire," VanMeter said.

Attendees were enjoying the camp on Friday, too.

PMG PHOTO: JONATHAN VILLAGOMEZ - Kylah Hansen uses a fire hose during her first day of Metro Fire Camp training on July 30."(Firefighting is) not something that's talked about a lot for young women, and so this is just the coolest opportunity to not only be around other people who want to do similar things that I do, but also be taught by a whole group of just really, really cool people," said camper Maya McDonald.

Abby McIlraith said she's possibly interested in pursing firefighting one day, and the camp helped to show her what it's like and "sort of made it a reality, that it's a realistic career path."

For a few of the young women, their favorite activities were ones that regular civilians might not get a chance to do. Some of the activities brought them onto rooftops with axes or behind steel doors equipped with a pry tool called a Halligan.

"It feels super-badass," McIlraith said.PMG PHOTO: JONATHAN VILLAGOMEZ - The yearly Metro Fire Camp is back after a year's hiatus. Tualatin Valley Fire & Rescue holds a three-day camp, led entirely by female firefighters, for young woman between the ages of 18 to 20 years old where they get hands-on firefighter training.

Editor's note: A previous version of this story misspelled the first name of a camp participant. Her name is Cierah Binder. The story has been corrected.

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