By Emily Miels The Leader-Telegram, Eau Claire, Wis.
When it was reported four people involved in a boating accident Friday on Lake Altoona needed help, rescuers dove into action.
Though the mock rescue effort was staged as part of the "Girls On Fire -- Rekindled" camp, the teen girls participating got first-hand experience as they worked together to save the supposed victims.
The camp -- put on by the Altoona Fire Department Explorer Post 800 and the Chippewa Valley Technical College fire-medic program -- gives girls in seventh through 12th grade the chance to experience the firefighting and paramedic career path using real equipment and real life scenarios.
"We've been learning about water rescue and how to save someone from the water and how to search for someone under water," said 13-year-old Sunshine Southworth of Chippewa Falls, the youngest "Girl on Fire -- Rekindled" camper.
During the water rescue scenario, the girls were split into teams and assigned to help one of the four victims. The girls used skills they had practiced Friday morning.
Haley Gardner, 17, said her favorite part of the experience was paddling the boats out to the victims and putting them on the stretchers.
"That was really cool," she said.
Jason Knecht, assistant chief of the Altoona Fire Department, said he was really impressed.
"Some of these girls are actually performing better than some firefighters would," Knecht said. "That's awesome."
"Girls on Fire -- Rekindled" is a more in-depth follow up to "Girls on Fire" camp, which all the girls participated in last summer.
Besides water rescue, which wasn't taught last year, the girls will learn anatomy, basic EMS skills and other areas of the fire-medic field over the course of the four day camp, said Shaylee Miracle, a CVTC fire-medic student who helped organize the program.
"We have pig hearts coming in, lungs, and all that fun stuff," she said. "It's just taking what they were quickly introduced to last year and expanding on it."
Last year's beginner camp was such a success that students became members of the Altoona Fire Department Explorer Post 800, a division of the Boy Scouts of America, which opened up training opportunities with the fire department, said Jason Knecht, assistant chief of the Altoona Fire Department.
"Now if they want they can take classes through the Explorer Post," Knecht said.
The classes can include entry-level firefighter training or an official water rescue class.
In the past 15 years, the number of women in the nationwide fire service workforce has been only about four percent, Knecht said.
"Part of the reason for this (program) is to get girls interested to pursue those careers that have typically been men only," Knecht said. "We want to break that stigma."
While having some of the campers continue on to become firefighters would be great, Miracle said it goes beyond that too.
"The big thing is working on self confidence," she said, noting the program teaches leadership and teamwork.
Gardner said she's learning a lot and having fun in the process.
"This is the funnest camp I've ever been to," she said.