Given her passion for the Los Angeles Fire Department, one would think Firefighter/Paramedic Jennifer Wilcox always wanted a career in the fire service. A thirteen-year veteran of the LAFD, Jen is one of the department’s greatest ambassadors. She has been involved with recruitment since joining the job – hosting training seminars, working recruitment events, conducting military outreach, and spearheading a mentorship program for new female recruits. But Jen’s enthusiasm for the fire service actually sparked from her love of medicine.
Born and raised in the San Fernando Valley, Jen discovered her interest in the medical field during high school. As a teen, Jen participated in a high school program that allowed her to visit hospitals and shadow their employees. From them on, she knew she wanted to become a paramedic. In fact, it was the LAFD that put Jen through paramedic school.
Thirteen years later, Jen recognizes the importance of job training for adolescents, particularly young women. It’s why she’s been involved with LA Women in Fire Service from the get-go, and why she brought the concept of a fire department camp for girls from Washington to Los Angeles, with fellow LAFD member Captain Monica Hall.
With three already completed, LAFD Girls Camp is a two-day weekend program for 50 or more girls taught by female firefighters and paramedics. Young women aged 14 to 18 participate in a program designed to provide hands-on insight into one of LA’s bravest jobs. Youth are challenged to learn about future career opportunities with fun activities using firefighting and emergency medicine tools and equipment. According to Jen, this camp is a “phenomenal program that empowers women to believe they can do anything they want to do.”
Girls Camp is part of an important effort to attract women to the department, as well as to diversify the department ethnically and to increase local hiring. The camp also serves as an important public service and consciousness-raising experience for the girls. Even for girls who eventually will not become firefighters, this camp is teaching young women that they are strong and will receive support if they choose professions outside of the traditional mold. “We live in a society that puts people in boxes and specific roles,” admits Jen. “This camp gives girls the confidence to do anything they want to do – to pursue careers.”
For those interested in continuing with LAFD, they may choose to become Cadets or to enroll in a fire and emergency medicine magnet high school. But for Jen, “recruitment is secondary. This is still a great way to empower women to have a job in civil service.” With two adopted sons, and a little girl on the way, Jen is driven by her desire to make the department and community better than she found it.