Fifteen high school girls braved the summer heat to train alongside female officers and first responders as a part of Camp Fury STL, the first firefighting and emergency response summer camp of its kind in the Midwest.
During the week-long experience, campers engaged in physical and mental challenges typically experienced by firefighters and law enforcement professionals, while also training and exercising with female firefighters, paramedics and policewomen from St. Louis County.
“We never had anything like this when we were younger,” said Heather Herbold, a firefighter-paramedic with St. Louis County and a Camp Fury STL volunteer. “There are over 40 females out here for this just today, and that’s almost unheard of.”
The high-school-aged Girl Scouts spent a week traveling between Camp Tuckaho in Troy, Missouri, and multiple law enforcement agencies across the area, concluding with a graduation ceremony on Aug. 4. Campers came from St. Louis City and County, with others coming from Jefferson, Lincoln, St. Charles and St. Francis counties.
“This was an eye-opening experience,” Ana Marler, 14, of Arnold, said. “I was mainly focusing on going into health, maybe becoming a pharmacist or a dentist, but this camp has opened up more possibilities.”
The idea for Camp Fury was spearheaded by firefighter-paramedic Katie Wiegand, of the Metro West Fire Protection District, who pitched the idea to the Girl Scouts of Eastern Missouri [GSEM] in February 2015. The original Camp Fury, which originated in southern Arizona in 2009, served as the model for the St. Louis branch.
“I really wanted to reach out to girls before they started college, and start the camp to build their confidence,” Wiegand said. “The goal of camp is to give them a small taste of what we do on a daily basis in our personal careers, and then, if they want to pursue that, we want to be the ones they can call upon if they have any questions or need references.”
Wiegand also drew inspiration from her own experience of becoming a firefighter-paramedic without female role models or mentors. Feedback from young women in rural areas like Lake of the Ozarks also inspired Wiegand to contact GSEM and create a summer camp that spans the Midwest.
“We partnered with Girl Scouts because it’s a national platform that can get the word out way better for these types of camps,” Wiegand said. “We’re reaching out all across the Midwest because there’s no other overnight camp like this, where you’re with first responders 90 percent of the time.”
GSEM partnered with Metro West Fire Protection District, St. Charles County Emergency Communications, the St. Louis Fire and Police Academy in Wellston and St. Louis County Police Department to make Camp Fury STL a reality.
“All of the partners we’ve worked with to bring this program to life for girls in our region have been so engaged and energetic,” Wiegand said.
According to Jessica Erfling, Chief Operating Officer of GSEM, the collaboration between Girl Scouts and law enforcement agencies allowed Camp Fury STL to blend traditional camp experiences with career-building skills.
“It’s rewarding to be able to take a legacy program like camping, that has over a 100-year tradition in Girl Scouts, and continue to make it relevant to the skills, talents and wants of today’s girls,” Erfling said.In addition to morning physical training at the St. Louis Fire and Police Academy, campers also learned first aid, CPR, handcuffing, self-defense tactics and water rescue. They also worked with a crime scene investigator at the St. Louis County crime lab.
Campers learned to search a pitch-black building, carried a 24-foot ladder and rappelled off a multi-story building with ropes and harnesses.
“It took me probably 10 minutes to jump off,” Marler said. “They really do push you, but they also always say, ‘You can do this.'”
According to a 2015 report from the U.S. Department of Labor, only 25 percent of EMTs and paramedics, and 13 percent of police officers are women. Statistics from the National Fire Protection Association also show that, in an annual average from 2011-15, women made up just 4.6 percent of firefighters.
“Even though there are more men, the camp makes you realize that women and men in law enforcement work just as hard,” said Cecelia Finley, 15, of Creve Coeur.
Erfling said the local success of Camp Fury STL would be evaluated after the camp’s conclusion. Expansion of the program will depend on feedback from collaborators and campers.
“We’re one of 112 councils across the nation, so if this is a successful model, we would be able to partner with our sister Girl Scout councils to make this program a reality for girls in other regions as well,” Erfling said.