Superheroes: Teen girls rappelling, fighting flames in 42C heat at Camp Ignite

Mississauga firefighter Tom Haines (right,) explains how to operate a pump to a group of teen girls at Camp Ignite on Wednesday, Aug. 10, 2016. (Photo: Kelly Roche/QEW South Post)
Mississauga firefighter Tom Haines (right) explains how to operate a pump to a group of teen girls at Camp Ignite on Wednesday, Aug. 10, 2016. (Photo: Kelly Roche/QEW South Post)

BY KELLY ROCHE

Lyndsay Swanston is only 16 and can add ‘battling a burning car’ to her resume.
“It was amazing,” said the Burlington resident.
“I mean, I’ve never done anything like that before.”
Swanston is one of 18 participants at Camp Ignite, a five-day firefighting camp hosted by the City of Mississauga targeting girls ages 15 to 19.
Wednesday’s forecast wasn’t in their favour.
Feeling like 42 C with the humidity, the girls were dressed in full gear, rappelling down a six-storey structure and deploying the hose at the Garry W. Morden Centre in Lisgar.

“It was actually harder than I thought to put out the fire …I thought if I just focus on one section and move to the next it would kind of go out in order but that did not work because it just spread,” said Swanston.
“So I learned that you have to keep it moving.”
Moving while staying balanced.
“This hose is pretty heavy,” said Swanston.
“You get blown back by the power, so it’s good that you have the team behind you helping you out, holding it up.”
Communication, she learned, was important, specifically when it comes to speed.
“When I was going forward we were going too fast and I couldn’t keep up, so I had to let them know to slow down,” said Swanston.

Abigail Ashley of Oakville works on a fire hydrant at Camp Ignite on Wednesday, Aug. 10, 2016. (Photo: Kelly Roche/QEW South Post)
Abigail Ashley of Oakville works on a fire hydrant at Camp Ignite on Wednesday, Aug. 10, 2016. (Photo: Kelly Roche/QEW South Post)

As for the temperature, “it’s kind of hard to differentiate” the heat between the sun, flames, and equipment, she said.
Sweating aside, “it’s been a super-cool experience,” said Victoria VanSickle, 18, of Oakville.
VanSickle says she accompanied her uncle, Bob Hall, a Mississauga Fire training officer, to a ‘take your child to work day’ in Grade 9 and knew firefighting was a career worth exploring.
“Not many kids our age get to do this,” said VanSickle.
Faith Dunford, 17, of Hamilton was beaming after rappelling.

It was “darn fun,” Dunford said.
“The guys up there were super-supportive and like, I think that’s the coolest thing to do in firefighting. It’s pretty awesome, actually.”
The hardest part so far, she says, is working in the heat while wearing “oven mitts” for pants.

Eighteen girls were in full gear at Camp Ignite. (Photo: Kelly Roche/QEW South Post)
Eighteen girls were in full gear at Camp Ignite. (Photo: Kelly Roche/QEW South Post)

The training course is meant to get girls excited about working in the field.
“They’re loving it,” said fire captain Shelli Varela.
“You know what, it’s a hot day but they’re champs.”
Varela is Mississauga’s first female firefighter and only female fire captain.

Camp Ignite is being led by Mississauga firefighter Shelli Varela. (Photo: Kelly Roche/QEW South Post)
Camp Ignite is being led by Mississauga firefighter Shelli Varela. (Photo: Kelly Roche/QEW South Post)

As of November 2015, women make up three per cent of the city’s frontline firefighters.
“I think it’s not necessarily important that women are represented in the fire service,” said Varela.
“I think it’s more important that we have excellent firefighters. I think the misnomer though, is the best can’t be women.”
She says she’s not “personally a proponent of hiring quotas. I’m a proponent of hiring the best, and if the best happens to be white males, that’s fine, but if the best happens to be all women, that’s fine too,” said Varela.
The girls attending Wednesday are “athletic and a little more rough-and-tumble, and a little more team-oriented,” said Varela.
“We seem to have a lot of hockey players this year.”
@qewsouthpost

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