Since roughly only about one-third of the nation’s emergency medical technicians and paramedics are women, last year Northwest Wisconsin CEP Focused Initiatives Manager and volunteer EMT with the Washburn Area Ambulance Carrie Okey started Rescue Divas.
This five-day residential camp experience marked an effort to do something about the shortage of female emergency medical staff by having girls participate in exploratory, hands-on activities that focus on a variety of skills and knowledge needed in Emergency Medical careers.
“Rescue Divas is all about exposing middle school girls to volunteer and career opportunities in Emergency Medical Services,” said Okey, explaining that there is a local, statewide and national shortage of EMTs.
“There have been lots of efforts to remedy this, with little progress made,” she said. “Rescue Divas is about getting girls excited and interested in EMS when they are in middle school, in hopes the spark grows throughout high school and results in them pursuing volunteer and/or career opportunities in the EMS field.”
Okey said that women are underrepresented in EMS.
“Especially in career fields as the rank increases,” she said. “Rescue Divas aims to show more girls/women how fun, exciting, and fulfilling EMS can be and start to become more equally represented in this field.”
Okey said that this year’s camp would be held June 12-16 at Camp Northwoods in Mason.
“We wanted a more "campy" feel, as well as allowing the girls to go somewhere a little further away from home/out of the norm,” she said. “We are super excited about this location and think it's going to add a lot to our program.”
Okey said they have some other changes for this year as well.
“Additionally, we are adding some cool elements, like a high ropes rescue demonstration and a presentation by the Backcountry Trail Patrol Association (a group who provides First Aid and safety education to mountain bikers and hikers),” she said. “We have a few more new tricks up our sleeves, but we want to surprise the girls, too.”
Okey said not everything would be different however.
“All of the girls’ favorites are being brought back, like the Sawyer County Search & Rescue training with their Canine Unit,” she said, adding that the Life Link III Air Ambulance would also be coming back to talk about medical transport by air and would be landing one of their helicopters on site. “We also feel it's very important that the girls attending Rescue Divas get trained in First Aid and CPR, so they have hard skills to take back to their communities.”
Okey said that besides all of the EMS things they would be doing, the campers would have plenty of ‘R&R’ time too.
“One camp highlight this year will be an ice cream social at the Delta Diner, which is right down the road from camp,” she said. “We have some fun field trips planned, as well, including going to the Bayfield County Sheriff's Dispatch Center, MMC's Emergency Room, the Ashland Fire Department station, and more.
“This year, we are going to build on all the fun and excitement from last year, and have an even better Rescue Divas EMS Summer Camp for Girls.”
Okey said campers could expect to have a good time and make some new friends.
“They can also expect some really exciting activities that no one else in middle school gets to experience,” she said. “I would love every middle school girl (in Ashland and Bayfield County) to apply for camp … even if you don't think you have an interest in EMS, you can come have fun at camp.”
Okey said the girls might be surprised by what they enjoy doing.
“But no matter what, you [campers] will leave with some helpful skills and great memories,” she said.
Ashland and Bayfield County girls who are currently in sixth, seventh, or eighth grades interested in taking part are encouraged to apply before it’s too late.
“The deadline to get completed applications in is April 22,” she said adding that they can only accept 20 girls.
Okey said if anyone is interested in helping they could always use more help.
“If you love the idea of Rescue Divas and want to work with us, please contact me,” she said.
Okey explained that CEP manages the Rescue Divas program with help from a small, but very dedicated group of volunteers from the Bayfield-Ashland County EMS Council.
“One part of CEP's mission is to increase the pipeline of workers in industries experiencing a lack of qualified applicants,” she said. “CEP also works with individuals to get the skills they need to work in high demand careers.”
Okey said as the Focused Initiatives Manager, she gets to conceptualize and work on projects like Rescue Divas. She also wanted the community to know that Rescue Divas is a long-range plan.
“Rescue Divas is one way to recruit for new EMTs, but the potential payoff is years away,” she said. “We need people to step up and volunteer to help today!”
Okey said that Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College holds at least one EMT class a year, and has a second one scheduled for this summer.
“If you can commit to this, please contact your local ambulance service right away,” she said encouraging people to contact her if they don't know who to contact but want to help.
“If not now, then when? If not you, then who? When the call for help comes out, we need people ready to heed it.”
Rescue Divas is made possible by generous donations from: Wisconsin AHEC, Essentia, St. Luke's, and the Ashland Education Fund.