After 17 minutes Felicity Bourgeois, 15, and her partner Savannah Smith, 14, emerged from a hot trailer desperate to take off the masks that prevented them from seeing.

“I’m claustrophobic and I felt like I couldn’t breath … it gets kind of scary,” exclaimed Bourgeois.

“It was fun,” she continued.

Bourgeois and Smith had just completed the confidence course at the Orange County (California) Fire Authority’s first Girls Empowerment Camp at OCFA headquarters in Tustin, California.

The goal of Girls Empowerment Camp is to introduce teenagers to the fire service and provide them with a realistic, hands-on overview of firefighting.

“We want to introduce firefighting and fire service to boys and girls ages 14 to 18 with a particular eye toward introducing females to fire service because they’re underrepresented,” said Tia Grasso, human resources manager for OCFA.

In all, 53 girls and five boys attended the free two-day camp that introduced them to all aspects of a fire service career.

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On the first day, firefighters from OCFA and other departments taught the teens firefighting techniques and how to use various tools. On the second day they were able to get hands-on experience in areas such as aerial ladder climbing, rope handling, using axes and chain saws, rappelling and hose handling.

“This is a long-term recruitment tool. We hope to introduce the possibility of considering jobs and careers in the fire service for young females and males,” says Grasso.

“We don’t have any problem getting boys to apply for our jobs here but we have inspired and encouraged women to give us a shot.”

The Orange County Fire Authority plans to make the Girls Empowerment Camp an annual event.