Young women between the ages of 16 and 19 are invited to the Lebanon Fire District for a weekend this summer to try out being a first responder.
Applications are due April 30 to participate in the first Linn County Young Women's Fire Academy, to be held June 23-24 at the district's main station, 1050 W. Oak St.
The two-day camp is being offered free of charge. Participants do not have to live in Linn County to apply, but admission is limited to the first 20 applicants. Applications are available online at the district's website, www.lebanonfire.org, or on the fire academy's Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/LCYWFA/.
Lt. Erin Nunes is in charge of the event and said she hopes to offer it every year.
"I'm excited about it," she said. "I think this is going to be a really great thing for Linn County."
Nunes got the idea after volunteering to be a mentor at a similar camp in Portland last year. It was a three-day camp put on by women firefighters all over the state.
"We've all been there once, and I know as a 16-year-old I would have jumped at this opportunity," she said. "Strong women mentors are incredibly important."
Nunes grew up in Roseburg. Her mother was a doctor and her father a paramedic. She always knew she wanted to do something similar — but a little bit different.
The movie "Backdraft," a thriller about firefighters in Chicago, sold her on her future profession. She volunteered in Sutherlin and joined the paid staff in Lebanon 11 years ago.
Nunes said she's always been welcomed into the business with open arms. But she recognizes that hasn't been true for every woman, which is another reason she wants to present the camp.
She also wants to do some myth-busting. Firefighting, she said, is "not all about being strong and buff. It's about being smart and thinking outside the box."
At the Portland camp, Nunes said, "One of the girls in my group said she didn't know women could be firefighters. I said, are you kidding me? In this day and age, that wouldn't be an option for them?"
Women are more than capable of climbing ladders and handling hoses, which are some of the skills the girls will practice at the two-day camp, Nunes said.
However, she added, more than three-quarters of fire personnel time is spent on emergency medical services rather than putting out flames. "Women are amazing at that."
To that end, participants in this year's camp also get to try out search and rescue procedures and work with extrication tools known as the Jaws of Life.
"We'll take a car, tear the doors off, roll down the dash," Nunes said. "They'll get to do things the general public doesn't get a chance to do."
Girls are invited to the camp even if they aren't considering firefighting as a career, Nunes said. Participants will practice teamwork, build their interviewing skills and create resumes as well as learning emergency techniques.
A woman who works as a deputy with the Benton County Sheriff's Office also will be one of the mentors at the camp, giving a presentation on empowering women in general. Nunes said she hopes to make more partnerships with Benton County for future camps.
Nationwide, as of 2015, 7.3 percent of firefighters were female, according to the National Fire Protection Association. Of the 12,850 career firefighters, 3.7 percent were women. Of the 72,250 volunteer firefighters, 8.9 percent were women.
That's despite a 2008 study that indicated almost half of female firefighter candidates pass required physical tests. Researchers found departments simply were not hiring women.
That's changing, however, Nunes said, and Lebanon is part of that change. Four of the district's 27 firefighters, including herself, are women; almost 15 percent. Six of the volunteers who serve as firefighters are women and another nine serve as support volunteers; about 26 percent of the total 57 volunteers.
Overall, it's a good time to check out firefighting as a career, Nunes said. "I think a lot of departments are really looking to hire more women."