Soot, sweat and X-chromosomes - The Explorer: Pima Pinal

Soot, sweat and X-chromosomes

Tucson girls get a feel for firefighting

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Posted: Tuesday, June 2, 2009 11:00 pm | Updated: 1:29 pm, Mon Apr 18, 2011.

They tromped through mud, scaled rooftops and crawled through the dark on a sooty, dirt-covered floor, and there wasn't a boy among them.

Last Friday, 14 local girls ages 14 to 17 traveled to the Tucson Fire Department's training facility at 10001 S. Wilmot Road, where they dove into real firefighter's training gear to learn what it takes to be a firefighter.

In attendance was 15-year-old Rachel Ward, who recently completed her freshman year at Pusch Ridge Christian Academy and is considering a career in fire science.

After finishing her station rotations, Ward and the rest of the girls sat down to catch their breath and re-hydrate in the shade. Her face was lightly covered in sweat and soot.

"I really like it," Ward said. "It's right up my alley, and I don't mind getting dirty."

Capt. Trish Tracy, public information officer for the Tucson Fire Department, was on site to help while numerous female firefighters ran the girls though their exercises. The girls firefighter camp was a combined effort by the Tucson Fire Department and Northwest Fire / Rescue District.

"We are trying to show them a little bit of everything we do," Tracy said. "When they leave here, they can find out if firefighting is something they want to do."

Even if they decide not to travel down the path of fighting fires, the 3-day camp would hopefully teach the girls confidence and teamwork, all while working alongside women firefighters, Tracy said. "We do everything as a team."

Funded by the Southern Arizona Women's Foundation, the girls spent their first day at the Tucson Fire Department's training facility. They stayed the night, then headed to the Sahuaro Girl Scout Council Hacienda Program Center on Saturday, where they covered water-rescue techniques. On Sunday, the girls traveled back to the TFD training facility for a graduation ceremony.

Friday began with a hearty breakfast at 6:30 a.m., followed by an hour and a half workout. The girls then participated in a group confidence-building workshop, and split into three groups after lunch.

One of the teams was sent to a classroom for a hands-on demonstration of EMT training. They covered basic medical techniques such as the Heimlich maneuver on an infant or a child, caring for a laceration and splinting broken bones.

The second group of girls traveled to a pair of ladders next to a building. In groups of two, the girls worked together to bring the ladder up against the building, then working together to bring it back down.

The girls then built up trust in the ladder and themselves, climbing to the top of the building.

In a fire training building, the third group of girls entered rooms covered with ash and soot. Adorned in firefighting jackets, pants, boots and helmet, the girls entered the room with their eyes closed. Two by two, they were asked to crawl on their hands and knees while following the hose back out of the building, all while keeping with their partner in the darkened room.

The exercise demonstrated what firefighters have to do sometimes when they lose their visibility in a smoke-filled room.

When they were done with each station, the girls tried their hands at spraying a water hose while walking through water and mud. The object was again to help build confidence and teamwork. Each pair of girls worked their way through the mud and encouraged each other to keep pushing, and to not give up.

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