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Women & Girls: Camp Molly gets girls interested in firefighting

‘I just love the adrenaline of it,’ says 17-year-old participant Avery Cochrane

It’s not surprising that Avery Cochrane is interested in becoming a firefighter. The 17-year-old’s dad, Ron Cochrane, is a captain with the Deep River Fire Department.

Avery is so committed to her goal, that she travelled down Highway 17 to Greater Sudbury to take part in Camp Molly, a firefighter camp for female youth aged 15-18 that ran at the Lionel E. Lalonde Centre in Azilda Aug. 17-20.

“I've just started to be really passionate about the fire service,” she said. “I've done a co-op with the fire hall. My dad's a firefighter. I just love the adrenaline of it.”

Avery said taking part in Camp Molly was “absolutely amazing.”

“I've learned so many things that I would not have learned this young, anywhere else, and I think it's just amazing that they're doing this for girls,” she said.

“I think all young girls everywhere should be able to do whatever guys can do, especially in a male-dominated profession like this. I think girls should really start to kind of dominate them.”

Avery’s dad was on hand Aug. 20 as the 33 camp participants took part in a competition, showcasing for family members the skills they learned during the camp, such as spraying a hose and dragging a weighted dummy, all while wearing firefighting gear.

A graduation ceremony marking the end of the program was held afterward.

The camp is “all she’s talked about for the last couple of weeks,” said Ron Cochrane. “I’m super proud.”

Another participant, Brooke Schwar, 17, said she hopes to fight wildfires in the future, working for the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry.

“I just like the adrenaline,” she said, adding that she enjoyed her experience at Camp Molly. 

“It taught me a lot of things, especially within specific situations,” she said. “Even if I don't continue in this exact thing, I know what to do when a certain thing comes. I like the strength that it's showing me that I have.”

Camp Molly, which was free of charge to participants, included training in not only fire suppression, but also auto extrication, communications, fire prevention, fire investigations, public education, media relations, medical, forcible entry and firefighter survival.

Participants were broken into seven groups of five during the day camp, with every group coached by a female firefighter. 

The goal of the camp, which was held in Greater Sudbury for the first time this summer, is for fire services to no longer be considered a non-traditional role for women.

Camp Molly is named after Molly Williams, who was a slave in 1818 when she became the first female firefighter with Oceanus Engine Co. 11, in Lower Manhattan. She is known for answering a call to duty when all of the male firefighters became sick with influenza. 

Lisa Webb, a volunteer firefighter out of the Lively station, was one of the coaches at Camp Molly last week.

The experience at the camp was “amazing,” she said.

“We've seen the girls go from shy and quiet and unsure the first day to today you see them running around here doing all the evolutions and they're really into it,” Webb said. “They're doing great.”

Webb said she thinks interested girls and women should consider becoming firefighters, whether it’s at the volunteer or career level, “because representation matters. Women should be able to see themselves reflected in any career that they want. There should be an equal representation of men and women to show young girls that they can do anything they want to do.”

Joseph Nicholls, chief of fire and paramedic services for the City of Greater Sudbury, was among those on hand for the Camp Molly firefighting competition and graduation ceremony Aug. 20.

“The ultimate goal is certainly to empower them, and to challenge them, and to have them as young women look at themselves differently and say, ‘You know what, if I want to be a firefighter, I want to be a paramedic, or want to be a police officer, that's within my reach, that's within my grasp,” he said. “This is demonstrating that they can do the same stuff that traditionally males would do.”

Asked how many women are members of Greater Sudbury’s fire services, Nicholls answered “not enough.” 

There are four female career firefighters in the city, along with a number of female volunteer firefighters, and these folks were among those providing training at Camp Molly.

Nicholls said he looks forward to more women in the future “coming out here and testing” to be a volunteer or career firefighter.

“The intent is certainly to entice and help us build numbers,” Nicholls said. “It’s no secret that we're struggling with volunteer numbers within Greater Sudbury, and across Canada. It’s not unique here … 

“I don't know what any of these young women were thinking about when they left school in June. Over the summer, they thought ‘I want to be a firefighter’ when they started hearing about Camp Molly, and they showed up, and they've been engaged ever since.”

Heidi Ulrichsen is a journalist with Women & Girls is made possible by our Community Leaders Program.