Women in Wildfire Training Camp 2017

  • By Julissa Gonzalez, Equal Employment Specialist, Los Padres National Forest
Women firefighters gather in a formation to hear next instruction while standing in an open mountainous area. A group of women firefighters attend a class. Men and women in uniform pose for the camera during a graduation ceremony. A large group of men and women pose for the camera at a graduation ceremony.

The Los Padres National Forest hosted its 4th Annual Women In Wildfire Training Camp, Dec. 10-15, 2017. During last year, the success of the training camp was especially significant given that it took place in the shadow of the Thomas Fire, which broke out Dec. 4 and spread to the LPNF just as camp participants from across the U.S. began arriving in Santa Barbara. What would eventually grow into the largest wildfire in California history was heading straight toward the camp location.

The forest staff began planning for the training camp in the summer, and the outreach notice for interested applicants went out in August 2017. The application process was extensive, and those women selected for the training camp had already begun taking steps to prepare physically and mentally for the week-long course. The selected candidates had arranged for time off from school and work, made travel arrangements and packed. Several of the participants were traveling from across the country.

The camp coordinators were fully committed to executing the training camp and willing to work through any challenges they faced. However, a massive wildfire during the winter season was not anticipated in the planning scenario. And yet the Thomas Fire, which ignited more than 40 miles to the west less than a week before the camp opened, prompted mandatory evacuations of the training camp location, San Marcos Christian camp, near Santa Barbara.

“I said the only way we would cancel the training camp this year was if we had to be evacuated, and then we were evacuated,” said Division Chief Jay Enns, lead cadre for the 2017 Women In Wildfire Training Camp. As luck would have it, Enns spoke these words while addressing the audience during the graduation ceremony that celebrated the successful completion of 23 training camp graduates. The training camp had not been cancelled thanks to the quick thinking of Enns and the LPNFs strong partnership with the California Conservation Corp that identified an alternate location nearly 100 miles away in San Luis Obispo, California.

As a result, for the fourth year in a row the forest successfully provided a comprehensive orientation for females interested in pursuing careers in wildland fire. The curriculum included classroom and hands-on field exercises as well as fire certification and the wildland fire physical agility test. Participants were able to take part in leadership and teambuilding exercises and received professional development training through resume and USAJobs application workshops.

The cadre was able to provide a quality experience for the participants who showed tremendous gratitude.

"The opportunity to attend this camp has helped me understand that I am a woman first and to be a woman is a strength itself that can be used to break the barriers presented in any field that is male dominated."~ Graduate Bao-An Nguyen

“The Women's camp provided me an open space to be vulnerable and personally develop my confidence in a physically and mentally intimidating field,” said training camp graduate Bao-An Nguyen. “Even though the camp's purpose was to teach me the fundamentals of Wildland Firefighting, the mentor guidance provided me an insight on my own capabilities and how it can be used holistically to empower myself and other woman. The opportunity to attend this camp has helped me understand that I am a woman first and to be a woman is a strength itself that can be used to break the barriers presented in any field that is male dominated.”

The Pacific Southwest Region’s Deputy Regional Foresters Jennifer Eberlien and Alan Olson attended the graduation ceremony on Dec. 15 to speak with the graduates. Additionally, Forest Service employees from the Inyo, Sequoia, and Shasta-Trinity national forests, as well as the Regional Office, participated in the ceremony.

Los Padres received more than 215 applications from interested females, of which 30 were selected and 23 successfully completed the training. A total of 87 participants have now graduated from Los Padres’ Women In Fire Training Camp since its conception in 2014.

The Los Padres National Forest would like to thank the California Conservation Corps in San Luis Obispo for providing an ideal location and resources to host the training camp as well as sending crews to assist on the Thomas Fire. Their partnership is greatly appreciated.