Calgary Police, Fire, and EMS proudly graduated their first Camp Courage participants on July 1, after a week-long camp introducing young women to those services.
The camp, which was a first for Calgary after two years of planning, was designed to help get more women interested in careers as first responders.
And for those young women, aged 15-18, who decide that these careers aren’t for them, it provided them with lifelong skills and empowerment for the future.
“It was just it was so cool to have all these women like teaching us these things,” said Carla Favell, who took part in the camp.
“It was really nice to have all these female mentors because some of a lot of these jobs are usually like stereotypically a man job.”
The Calgary Police Service, Calgary Fire Department, and Alberta Health Services face gender and diversity gaps within their services. Although less of an issue in police and EMS, the Calgary Fire Department has a significant gender gap. There are roughly 50 women out of the more than 1,300 firefighters.
“What we want to do is plant the seeds that you can identify as male, female, non-binary, it doesn’t matter if you are interested in this job and you have the passion and the drive to meet all the criteria,” said Carol Henke, Public Information Officer with the Calgary Fire Department.
Camp Courage was first planned to be held in Calgary in 2020, but was delayed due to the pandemic. It followed the model of successful Camp Courages held since 2006 in Eastern Canada.
Participants in this year’s camp spent a week learning from women on active duty from each of the services.
On graduation day, the camp participants put on skills demonstrations for what they had learned over the week. These included arrest scenarios with the Calgary Police Service, lifesaving techniques like CPR and patient trauma management with EMS, and endurance and fitness tests that had participants hauling dummies and hoses alongside climbing stairs with the Fire Department.
Pushing comfort zones, gaining skills
Carly Tatomir, an operations manager for the Calgary Zone AHS EMS, said that part of the importance of Camp Courage was providing experiences in a safe space for young women.
“They might not feel so self-conscious to go try,” she said.
“And to see female paramedics, police officers and firefighters helping them through the stations, and exposing them to things they haven’t seen before, pushing them outside their comfort zone, and hopefully empowering them to realize they can do things that maybe they thought they couldn’t.”
Tatomir said that doing hands-on work with the tri-services, to see how they closely operate together, was a way of showing how one aspect of empowerment, teamwork, could be built upon.
Calgary Police Const. Kelley Lower said that over the week she saw the young women mature. They found the courage to do things that gives the camp it’s namesake.
“What they’ve done and accomplished over this last week is absolutely incredible,” said Lower.
“I think their parents seeing their girls that have been inspired, empowered and encouraged to do these professions, maybe some of these parents never thought their daughters would ever do this,” she said.
“I see twinkles in their mom and dad’s, and their guardians’ and their grandparents’ eyes. That makes me proud because I’m proud of these girls after one full, hard week.”
Helping make future career decisions
In addition to the tri-services, recruiters for the RCMP, Canada Correctional Services, and Canada Border Services were on hand.
Lower said that she knew not every one of the graduates would eventually pursue a career in the tri-services. They thought it was important to include other opportunities for them to explore if they wished. She said that it wasn’t really about exposing any of the graduates to any one job. They wanted to show them there are hundreds of different jobs involved.
“I think that somebody’s going to leave here knowing that this isn’t what they want to do. But then we’re going to have a small percentage of them that are gonna say, ‘yeah, it is.’ And if they didn’t have this opportunity, they never would have known that they had some of these opportunities,” she said.
“So I think it’s important for them to see that women can do these jobs, and are very good at them.”
Evolution of first responder career options
Henke said that when she was in school, the only option available to her was to do home economics.
“When I was in grade nine, because I was a female, I was forced to go into home ec and sewing. I did not have an option to even try shop or auto mechanics,” said Henke.
“So it really is about broadening people’s horizons, and gender should not define what you can be as a career. Being a paramedic, being a police officer, being a firefighter, it is challenging, it is hard. And no it’s not for everybody,” she said.
“However, when you see other people like yourself doing that work, and you share that passion for helping people in the community, it’s just amazing and it’s so rewarding on so many levels.”
As for Favell, she said she felt really empowered and emboldened to follow her dream of being a police officer.
“It’s really nice to put on the belt and it had the fake gun, but I’m like, this still feels powerful. And you know, watching the women in fire like do all this crazy stuff, it was like ‘that’s so cool,'” she said.
“I feel so good at this.”