Camp Ember teaches girls interested in fire service

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By Deborah Swearingen

As a young girl living in Florida, Maddison Vurnam remembers when a child went missing in her neighborhood.


The local fire department stayed out all night searching without taking breaks. It was this experience that inspired Vurnam, a 17-year-old home-school student from Arvada, to work someday in the fire service. When she heard about Camp Ember, a four-day immersive fire-based camp for girls, she knew she wanted to participate.

“The reason I want to do it is because these people are so inspiring to me. They’re so great,” she said. “They put their selves at risk to help other people.”

The camp, a joint effort between West Metro Fire Rescue, Arvada Fire Protection District and Red Rocks Community College, is now in its second year. It’s an opportunity for girls 16 through 18 to learn more about the fire service. The campers participate in bunker gear drills, CPR and First Aid certification, search and rescue, fire-hose handling, fire hydrant operations, vehicle extrication and more.

For Vurnam, search and rescue was appealing — likely because of her experience growing up. Trinity Kelly, 16, on the other hand, selected a different favorite.

“Cutting up cars,” the Bear Creek High School student said, grinning. “Destroying them.

“It’s all been a pretty cool experience,” Kelly added.

On Saturday morning, the girls dressed in full bunker gear and received a lesson in fire-hose handling from West Metro staff and Camp Ember instructors. Additionally, they participated in fire-hydrant drills and worked on dragging exercises, where they practiced carrying each other as if from a burning building.

For those interested in being a firefighter or paramedic, the opportunity is unlike any other.

In addition to teaching the participants useful skills, Camp Ember is very much about building confidence and life skills, and promoting teamwork and camaraderie.

“It gives them confidence mostly. The confidence … that we see from day one to day four is just amazing,” said camp instructor Tracie Amann, an Arvada firefighter. “Just the whole picture is a really good opportunity for them.”

Camper Mackenzie Brown, 16, is mainly interested in becoming a paramedic, but she knows paramedics and firefighters must have a good working relationship. She recognized the benefit of participating in Camp Ember for this reason.

“Being with firefighters is a huge part of the job,” she said. “I want to be an EMT, but I want to be a really good one.”

As a firefighter, every day looks a bit different. One day, you might be fighting a fire. Another day, you’re participating in training exercises. On yet another day, you might be transporting a medical patient to the hospital.

The variety is part of what attracted Miranda Bullock, 16, to the line of work. But there’s something else that made the fire service appealing to Bullock.

“I like to help people,” the Columbine High School student said.

Contact reporter Deborah Swearingen at dswearingen@evergreenco.com or 303-350-1042. Follow her on Twitter @djswearingen.