Vashon Island Fire & Rescue (VIFR) Explorer Ellen Chappelka had a summer experience she will never forget. She was one of 24 campers invited to attend Camp Blaze, a week-long fire camp for young women ages 16-19. The camp is held every two years at the Washington State Fire Training Academy in North Bend. The camp is staffed entirely by women in the fire service, including VIFR Battalion Chief Cari Coll, who volunteer their time to the camp. Campers and staff came from all over the country to participate in Camp Blaze. It is free for campers and funded through donations.
Campers are taught what it means to represent BLAZE, which stands for Bravery, Leadership, Attitude, Zenith, and Empowerment. On the last night of camp five campers are singled out to receive a “Blaze award” for best representing one of those traits. Chappelka was selected by the Crew Leaders as the recipient of the “Leadership” award.
During the camp the young women practiced live fire suppression, search and rescue, forcible entry, self-defense, a medical emergency scenario with Airlift NW and many team building exercises. They spent one day at the Bellevue fire training center performing vehicle extrication, rappelling from the tower, climbing the aerial ladder, running through a physical abilities course and participating in an exercise with self-contained breathing apparatus. Then they were taken out on the Seattle fire boat for a sunset cruise and a demonstration of the boat spraying water.
Chappelka said about Camp Blaze, “What made it really special for me was the people. It was the first time I’ve had that amount of exposure to female firefighters. It was really cool to have people who could relate to being short and the struggle of finding extra-small gloves. They all have great advice for dealing with firefighting challenges as well as teaching us leadership skills.”
Chappelka will be starting her senior year at Vashon High School this fall and will continue in the Explorer program for a second year. After high school, she wants to study and work in emergency management or homeland security with a focus on natural disasters or become a professional firefighter.
To learn more about Camp Blaze please visit the website at www.campblaze.com.