Camp Courage continues to prepare young women for careers as first responders

It takes some bravery to zipline down the side of a four-storey building, but a little support from your friends — and some professional firefighters — can go a long way.

That’s what 24 young women found out Saturday while completing some firefighting drills as part of their exercises at Camp Courage, a unique camp that introduces women aged 15 to 19 to the “ins and outs” of a career as a first responder.

Kathleen Davis, 17, quickly learned that she could conquer her fear of heights when she put her mind to it and propelled herself down a zip line located at the training facility behind Halifax’s Regional Fire Station #7 on Knighstridge Drive.

“I didn’t think I was actually as scared as I was until I went up there,” said Davis, following her successful zipline.  “I was like, ‘ok, yeah, I got this, I’m just going to go on and I’m not even going to think about it,’ then I got there and said, ‘yeah, I’m a little scared’ and started freaking out.’”

Camp Courage was founded in 2006 by firefighter Andréa Speranza, camp founder and fire captain, to introduce young women to professions of firefighting, policing and emergency medical services by giving them hands-on experience training with real professionals.

Part of the camp experience is to help improve diversity in a line of work that, for years, has been largely dominated by men in terms of employment.

“I believe women are the most underutilized resource in general and we have a lot to contribute,” said Speranza.

“There’s no shortage of potential, there’s only a shortage of appropriate support and encouragement. These young ladies are so impressive; they can do anything they want and anything they put their heart and mind to.”

Emmalee Harvey wants to be a paramedic. Her cousin took part in Camp Courage in 2013 and is now working as a paramedic, and she wants to follow in her footsteps. This experience, Harvey says, will help pave the way forward.

“There’s a lot of stuff I thought I would never do, or thought I’d ever be able to do, so it’s kind of proven that I have the ability to do whatever I want,” said Harvey, 16 .

“[Camp Courage] has just kind of given me some fire inside of me.”

Some of the camp mentors on hand help the campers during the routines and exercises. Many of them took part in the camp themselves and are now living their dreams in their chosen field. Now, they’re able to come back and help the next generation achieve their dreams.

“I was in their shoes six years ago and I know exactly how they feel, and how they’re all unsure of what they want to do,” said Christie Webb, who is now pursuing a firefighting carreer and finishing a kinesiology program.

“I was there and I can talk with them and encourage them to chase their dreams and go after what they want.”

If you want to get into Camp Courage, the good news is it’s free.

The charity is encouraging more young women to experience the unique first responders’ camp. To apply, you must complete an essay about how you have or want to help make a difference in your community.

Camp Courage runs every two years.

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