A Jamaica Plain teenager recently spent a week rappelling down 40-foot walls, crawling through buildings ablaze and working the Jaws of Life at a firefighting camp for girls in New Hampshire.
“I’ve always been interested in firefighting, since I was 2. I was looking for things to do this summer. [When] I found this, I was like, ‘Oh my God!’ and I applied,” 17-year-old Ayla Rich told the Gazette. “It was the best week of my life.”
Camp Fully Involved, in Concord, N.H., is a firefighting sleep-away camp for girls ages 14-20. In six days of training by a co-ed staff, the girls—from as far away as Canada and Texas—learn how to correctly dress in firefighting gear, to use regulation breathing apparatus and to communicate as a team, as well as how to get around in a pitch-black burning building and to rappel down a 40-foot wall, Rich said.
“It was really intense, being in [a burning building], but really cool at the same time,” she said. “It was smoky. We were crawling. It’s hard to see. We definitely had to communicate with each other.”
The girls also learned how to use the high-pressure hoses and “car extrication”—how to safely remove someone from a car, including using the Jaws of Life, a hydraulic rescue tool.
“The instructors were just amazing,” Rich said. “[I] felt safe the entire time.”
All the instructors are volunteers, camp Director Jess Wyman told the Gazette. The program, while independent from the New Hampshire Fire Academy, uses its facilities and dorms with the Academy’s blessing.
“The Fire Instructors and Officers Association of New Hampshire has supported us from the beginning and continue to work with us by backing our program and handling our accounting,” she said.
The experience has only fueled Rich’s love of firefighting, she said. She said she is committed to applying to the Boston Fire Academy as soon as she turns 19, the minimum age, and is looking into getting EMT-certified before then.
“The whole experience was very empowering, to see that women can do this, too. I loved seeing all these examples of strong women” embodied in the instructors, she said.
“We wanted to take the opportunity to show these young women that this is a great career option, and that in spite of what they may think or have heard, they could be very successful at it,” Wyman said.
Open for students since 2007, Camp Fully Involved was named after firefighter wordplay, Wyman explained. When a fire has totally consumed a structure, firefighters refer to it as being “fully involved.”
“In our program, our goal is to involve the cadets in every aspect of the fire service that we can show them in six days, to keep them ‘fully involved,’” she said.
Camp Fully Involved has one six-day session per year. Its website is campfullyinvolved.com.