With cheers of joy and pride, the graduating girls of Camp Fury 2018 celebrated the completion of their five-day program earlier this month at The Angel Charity Place for Girls here in Tucson.
The week-long training provided the girls with knowledge in firefighting, emergency medical services, defensive tactics, investigative skills and performing physical fitness tasks.
Marking its tenth anniversary this year, co-founders fire chiefs Laura Baker and Cheryl Horvath took a break from running drills to reflect on the impact and success of the camp. In 2009, Horvath, then with Northwest Fire District, and Baker, of Tucson Fire Department, came together with the hope of preparing future female leaders to become involved in the fire service.
“Myself and chief Horvath were both training chiefs of our respective departments and we both were involved in the International Association of Women in Fire and Emergency Services,” Baker said. “We both knew we needed to bring more women to the fire service.”
Baker said she knew early on that the goal was to “entice young girls to get involved into non-traditional careers.”
In a male-dominated industry, Horvath said that she and Baker “knocked their heads against the wall trying to convince fire chiefs that they need to do something differently.”
According to data from the National Fire Protection Association for 2016 only 4 percent of all firefighters throughout the nation are women.
“We put the women forward when it comes to teaching the girls and leading the camp, and we have a lot of assistance from our male allies,” Horvath said. “This is a great chance to help the girls target a specific career and also highlight the women who are doing the job.”
As training chiefs, Horvath and Baker had access to necessary facilities and equipment, and successfully secured a $10,000 grant through the Women’s Foundation of Southern Arizona to start the program. A year later they partnered with the Girl Scouts of Southern Arizona.
The journey began as “Fire Camp” with the goal of getting more young females aware of careers in fire services. With some contribution of participating girls, the name was changed to Camp Fury the following year.
According to Baker, courage, confidence and character are core values deeply instilled in Camp Fury participants.
“The courage to do things you’ve never done, the confidence to actually believe in yourself… and the character is just to be our own authentic selves and who we are as women,” Baker said. “We can be leaders and we can do things that traditionally aren’t done.”
Sierra Clark participated in the program over the course of three years, and this year, she returned as a squad leader.
“[The camp] was very new; it was eye-opening,” Clark said. “It really shows you that you can do anything you want to. Just being surrounded by these powerful women, you see you can accomplish anything, especially in these fields that are dominated by men.”
Day one at training, girls tend to be timid, Baker said. As the camp goes on, and with the support of the team and guiding vision, girls become stronger and more confident.
Alongside the high-school girls’ camp, Camp Fury also offers a one-day program for middle school girls, Catching Fury.
The younger program attracts middle school girls and shows them different skills related to public service. With hands-on experience, they perform activities including repelling, first aid, CPR, fingerprinting and evidence collection.
Olivia Seagraves enjoys repelling off the six-story building and learning about first aid and CPR. She said Catching Fury was enjoyable. When she completed it, she knew she wanted more. This year, she enrolled in Camp Fury.
“It’s very empowering to see the women leaders in the fire department and police,” Seagraves said. “I like asking them questions and learning about the fields.”
Looking back at their beginning, Horvath and Baker said they’re proud to watch the camp celebrate its tenth anniversary—especially because of the popularity and support they’ve gained.
“All we wanted was a program that would sustain itself so we wouldn’t be at the mercy of budget cuts,” Horvath said.
Johnny Miller, a Fury parent working in the fire service, realizes the importance of this experience in relation to his daughter’s growth and discipline. Miller supports his daughter in every way he and his wife can.
“We walk that fine line between discipline and love, and she knows that we have her back no matter what happens and she has to be disciplined to be successful,” he said.
Debbie Rich, CEO of Girl Scouts of Southern Arizona, is proud to see the graduating girls becoming stronger and more qualified after completing the camp.
“The transformation from day one to graduation is phenomenal,” Rich said. “They come in teenagers, and they leave strong young women. They support each other and lift each other up. They learn to be honest and advocate for themselves, and these are all critical to empowering girls to be strong.”
Dalal Radwan is a University of Arizona journalism student and Tucson Local Media intern.