Taralyn Pysher, who will be a freshman at Monona Grove High School, said she got out of her comfort zone when she had to yell out orders during a simulation of a police foot pursuit of a suspect during exercises at CampHERO.
That’s part of the plan, said Madison Fire Capt. Jen Roman, who founded the camp in 2012. CampHERO aims to help girls develop courage, gain confidence and build character while introducing them to careers in firefighting, law enforcement and EMS.
Some of the exercises at camp, such as yelling commands and wielding an ax, help build that confidence.
“You can see the growth happening right in front of you,” Roman said.
CampHERO is run through Girl Scouts and in partnership with Madison Area Technical College. For two weeks, camps of varying lengths give girls in kindergarten through 12th grade hands-on training from protective services professionals at the college’s Truax campus. The older campers sleep at night at Camp Brandenburg, a Girl Scout camp in northwestern Dane County that’s run like a fire station during CampHERO.
The camp, which concludes Friday, is open to any girl, and 178 attended this year from different parts of the country. Those who aren’t Girl Scouts pay an extra $15 member fee during registration.
Nearly 200 volunteered to staff the camp, including Kelly Kolb-Johnson, a Sun Prairie High School graduate who attended the camp three times and is now studying at Madison Area Technical College to become a police officer.
Roman, who has volunteered with Girl Scouts for 27 years, said discussions about how to increase the number of female firefighters led to the realization that the introduction must start when girls are young. Nationwide, only 3.6 percent of fire professionals are women.
“We needed to focus on the little girls and think of it more as a 20- to 30-year plan, not ‘How we can get more recruits in the next hiring process?’” said Roman, chair of the CampHERO leadership team.“What can we do to make girls think this is a possibility for them?”
Danica Crook, who will be a sophomore at Monona Grove, said she has long wanted to be a firefighter but initially didn’t know if it was possible for a girl. A family friend mentioned the camp and she has attended it every year since.
Pysher said she attended the camp for the first time this year with plans of becoming a medical examiner but CampHERO has opened her eyes to the possibility of other professions.
“As we have started doing activities and I see what you’re actually doing in these careers I’ve gotten more interested in them,” she said.