Aurora Fire's 'Camp Spark' image

Aurora Fire Rescue Captain Valerie Solano started Camp Spark to help young women interested in fire service gain courage and fire skills.

Camp Spark, started by AFR Capt. Valerie Solano in 2020 to help inspire young women to join the fire department and ignite courage in them, will run this summer from July 26 through July 28 at the City of Aurora Public Safety Training Center, 25950 E. Quincy Ave.

Girls between ages 12 and 18 can apply for the camp, which includes workouts, education from female firefighters, games and team challenges, and drills such as raising and lowering ladders and conducting rescues and searches.

Applications are due June 7 and attendance will be limited to 50 participants, according to a news release.

Batcho, one of the camp’s prior participants, wants to be a firefighter when she turns 18.

Camp Spark has helped her get exposure to the firefighting world and develop confidence in herself, she said.

When Solano, who co-founded Camp Spark, became a firefighter, she wasn’t sure how to break into the field. She and another AFR firefighter decided to start the camp to help young women interested in fire service get their feet in the door and gain the courage to enter the still male-dominated field.

Seeing the girls — who are usually timid on day one — develop confidence in themselves over the course of the camp “fills our hearts,” Solano said. 

“One of the skill sets that we’re trying to get these young ladies to have is that confidence,” Solano said. “It’s not just ‘I can do this because I’m a girl or I can do this because I’m a boy,’ it’s ‘I can do this because I’m confident and competent’.”

During camp each year, Solano has her male counterparts come out and see how the girls are doing, she said. 

“It’s really cool for us to have the men come out and see what women are capable of doing with very little instruction,” Solano said. “We’re only about seven or eight percent women in Aurora Fire and we want to see that increase.”

According to the National Fire Protection Association, of about 89,600 firefighters in 2020, only about 9% were women — or about 17,200. 

Batcho said the first day she attended camp was scary because she wasn’t sure what to expect. Now, she attends every year and hopes other girls take the leap and join the camp even if they’re scared, she said.

Soleil Moscoso, 16, another returning camp participant, joined Camp Spark during a low point in her life, she said.

At the time, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, Moscoso was fighting depression and had tried a lot of things to pull herself out of it. Nothing worked until she joined Camp Spark, she said. 

Moscoso’s dad, Aurora Fire Rescue firefighter Juan Moscoso said he watched his daughter “change the course of her life” through camp. 

“She came home every day so tired, but so happy,” Moscoso said. “She lost her way there for a couple of years, but Camp Spark really brought it together for her.”

Being at Camp Spark surrounded by other girls learning the same skills is empowering, Soleil Moscoso said.

“It shows (girls) it’s not just done one way, the man way,” she said. “You can do it your way, whichever way works for you.”

As a firefighter himself, Juan Moscoso said Camp Spark is important for young girls who want to be firefighters and also for men in the industry to see what women are capable of. 

“She has grit, she has courage,” he said of his daughter. “She can be a leader of men and women, whether in the fire service or the military.”

The skills learned in camp apply to life in general too, Capt. Solano said.

“They apply that same thing to whatever challenge they have in their life,” Solano said. “They’re going to do it with confidence. They’re going to be competent in it. It doesn’t matter male or female, we just want these young ladies to go out into the world and crush it.”

 

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