Phoenix Firecamp, the nationally recognized program of Fire Service Women of NYS, Inc. (FSWNYS), graduated 13 young women in 2011, as the camp completed its fifth year of providing a week-long overnight camp aimed at interesting women in becoming members of fire and emergency services. The curriculum is an abbreviated version of a recruit class and also includes EMS training and CPR certification.
“2011 was banner year for us,” said Lt. Anna Schermerhorn-Collins, (FDNY), camp director. “Nearly 100 girls, 97 in fact, have successfully completed the program since it began in 2007. It’s not a walk in the park for a week. The campers work hard, overcome fears, meet challenges and have the time of their lives. They tell us it’s a life-changing experience; they go away stronger, motivated and based upon our follow-up, the majority are involved in the fire service, largely as volunteers in their home communities.”
Lt. Schermerhorn-Collins said that the 2011 camp was especially rewarding because four Phoenix graduates returned as staff members and apprentices. “We approve staff members based on stringent criteria and it was gratifying that former campers were sufficiently experienced and mature to join the older staff, who range in age from the 30’s to the 60’s.” The apprentices are “staff in training.” She said that recent graduates relate to the campers in a unique way, “Not only are they closer in age to the campers, but they understand and appreciate the dynamics of Phoenix and pass that along.”
Lt. Erica DeBie (07), Ballston Lake FD, completed her second year on staff, functioning as a team leader. “I guided my girls through their courses, answering questions and providing support and encouragement every step of the way. I wish every girl in America could attend a camp like this…learning all these skills, putting them to use and accomplishing something great!”
Lt. Brook Rowley (08), Duanesburg FD, in her first year as staff, said, “ I think my most important contribution was being someone the campers could look up to and help them with anything throughout the week, since I was in their shoes three years prior. Phoenix fueled my motivation and enthusiasm for what I’m doing today.” Brook is completing her Bachelor’s degree from Empire State College in Community and Human Services with a concentration in fire investigation. She is employed at Morrison Engineering as an Evidence Technician and Fire Investigation trainee.
Two graduates, Lt. Caitlyn Roberts (07), Arkville VFD, and FF Ashley Baker (07), Lee Center VFD, came on board as apprentice staff members. Roberts said she was motivated to volunteer her time because, “I wanted to bring the experience and joy that I had when I went to camp to these girls and I also knew that I would learn more from the women that had been my instructors a few years before.” Baker, a 4th generation member of the Lee Center FD, recently earned an Associates Degree in Fire Protection Technology from Onondaga Community College. She said, “If it weren’t for Phoenix, I wouldn’t have gotten that degree and be striving to become a career firefighter. I think the best moment of camp this year was when one of the campers thought she didn’t have the confidence to perform a task and the other campers cheered her on to do it. She did it and loved every minute of it.”
The camper evaluations from year to year have common themes, Schermerhorn-Collins said: “The food was amazing; the hands-on exercises are the best; the staff will help you out in any way; I made friends for a lifetime; the social events were cool.” The 2011 graduates from New York State were: Miranda Goodwin, Naples; Peyton VanAlstyne, New Baltimore; Miranda Cross, Grand Gorge; Jessica Frost, Honeoye; Breanna Kretzer, Melville; Haley Gawarcki, Lee Center; Roxanne Huchison, Barton; Susan Rose Cornell, Chaumont; Brandi Roselle, South Dayton; Jenna Thorpe, South Dayton; Stephanie Alexander, Newark Valley. The out-of-state graduates were: Samantha Kirsch, Englewood, NJ and Courtney Wilkos, Durham, NC.
FSWNYS and its Phoenix Firecamp were honored last summer by Fire 20/20 for “outstanding work to build and nourish a diverse and inclusive fire department culture and foster proactive relationships and trust with their multicultural communities.” The organization was selected from a field of 40 applicants nationwide to be one of four national recipients of the First Annual Tony Pini Award.
The 6th annual Phoenix Firecamp will be held July 15-20, 2012, at the Utica Fire Academy. The program is conducted in partnership with the City of Utica Fire Department and the Westmoreland Volunteer Fire Department. Utica supports the camp with lodging, apparatus, logistical support and EMS coverage; Westmoreland provides social events, transportation, staff support and secures contributions to Phoenix from area businesses and fire departments.
Information and applications for Phoenix 2012 will be online at www.fswnys.org after January 1, 2012; the application deadline is May 1. Phoenix Firecamp is free, except for a $75 non-refundable application fee. The camp director can be reached at 845/309-1325.