As young firefighter Hannah Benischek crawls through a fibreglass tunnel, she has trouble seeing ahead. Her helmet is covering her eyes as it is bumped forward by the giant air tank on her back.
Luckily, it’s only an exercise. The tunnel represents a confined space, but otherwise, she is in the relaxed comfort of the basement under Saanich Fire Department No. 1.
She was there on last week because earlier this spring, Benischek, 17, was one of 10 Saanich teenagers who applied to represent the District’s fire department at Camp Ignite in Vancouver from August 11 to 14. She was selected by Saanich Firefighters Bonnie Fiala and Heather Jaques for being a well-rounded applicant as an athlete (freestyle skiing) with a well thought out and put together essay.
“The point of the camp is to have fun and be open minded, and to have a great experience,” Jaques said. “It’s more than a camp for future firefighters, it’s to empower young women to have the career they want, and to give them life skills.”
Benischek is going into Grade 12 at Pacific Christian School and is part of the Canadian Sports School, which supports her athletic endeavour of freestyle skiing (she also spends a lot of time at Mount Washington). At the fire department, Benischek had a gear fitting and ran through a few basic drills with the day crew to get comfortable in the heavy coat, pants and boots. She has now taken the gear with her for the upcoming camp.
Fiala and Jaques had Benischek learn how to hook up the firehose, and use it, which was heavier than she thought it’d be, Benischek said.
“What drew me to apply for Camp Ignite was the balance that firefighting has with a medical [relief] side to it, an athletic side, which I love, and the physical intensity.”
This year is Saanich’s first time sending a teen to Camp Ignite, which draws girls from across B.C. and introduces them to the world of firefighting. Active women firefighters share their experiences at the camp and lead the teenagers through exercises as they gain firefighting skills and participate in fitness and team building activities.
In April, Fiala and Jaques visited high schools in Saanich to encourage girls in Grades 11 and 12 to apply to be part of the new Saanich mentorship program and go to Camp Ignite. It’s a fitting connection as 2014-recruits Fiala and Jaques are among the first female firefighters in Saanich.
Camp Ignite runs at various locations throughout the Metro Vancouver fire departments. For more information about Camp Ignite, visit campignite.com.