Camp Aims to Recruit More Female First Responders

By Amanda Rooker

At Iowa Hero Academy, everything is hands-on. The five-day overnight camp is put on by Des Moines Police Department and the Des Moines Fire Department for Iowa girls ages 15-18.

From firearm simulations to search and rescue drills, to learning how to use fire hoses and hydrants, the camp aims to empower young women. The goal is to help them become heroes in their own communities by developing leadership skills, confidence, and the courage to serve others.

Seventeen-year-old Erika Foughty dreams of becoming a cop but says the camp opened her eyes to pursuing a career as a firefighter.

“I think it [Iowa Hero Academy] will change everything for me and it will really help me see what I want to do with my future,” Foughty said.

Beyond the tactical training, campers heard from local leaders, asking tough questions about mental health and how to navigate a male-dominated field.

“It gives them the opportunity to explore and understand where their comfort levels are … and to know that it’s not just a man’s world,” Jessica Bastian with the Des Moines Police Department said. “That’s not something a lot of us had growing up. You didn’t see a lot of women in the field and, even then, [there weren’t] opportunities to fully understand what that looks like.”

Across the country, women only make up 13% of total police officers. Only 8% of firefighters are female. It’s a gap Iowa Heroes Academy wants to help close.

“I hope that we see young women say, I want to apply for this job, I want to be a part of a program and a career field that I can excel in,” Hali Van Velzen with the Des Moines Fire Department said.

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“These are some really strong ladies that we get to be a part of their lives,” she said. “Hopefully, they take what they learned from here, and bring that back to their communities as well.”

She hopes the camp will continue to grow in years to come, lighting a fire in the hearts of future first responders.

“It’s definitely inspiring as it’s a male-dominated career,” 16-year-old Ayanna Murray said. “Seeing all these women come out to show women like me that you can be a firefighter or a police officer or just a first responder in general. Seeing them work and seeing them in their uniforms is just so cool to see.”

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