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Fire School 101: Inside the life of a firefighter

The day is hot. The gear is heavy. And alarm rings and
firefighters have to respond to a fire as a car has
collided with a school bus. It’s a scenario designed
to show city leaders what firefighters must deal with on a
second’s notice.

Unified Fire Agency represents a half dozen cities,
several townships and all residents and businesses located
in the unincorporated area of Salt Lake County.

The agency employs 431 full-time employees, more than two-
thirds of whom are also certified paramedics. UFA responds
to an average of 24,000 calls a year, and this figure
increases annually by approximately 10 percent.

Once or twice a year, UFA invites members of city councils
or mayors from each of the cities it serves to participate
in a one-day training called “Fire School
101.”

They learn that working as a UFA firefighter consists of
much more than knocking down flames. In fact, the bulk of
the work seems to involve crawling through dark, tight
corridors, heavy lifting and quick thinking.

During the course of the day, trainees attempt to climb up
a 100-foot-tall ladder extending from a bright red engine.
The officials in during Fire School 101 attempt the climb
on a sunny day, but firefighters often have to climb the
same ladder when the temperatures are freezing and the
mist from the spray of the fire hose turns to ice when it
makes contact with the metal steps.

The council members and mayors also make their way on
hands and knees through a two-story building wearing a
blindfold to gain understanding of how firefighters must
use the hose as a lifeline. When the thick smoke makes it
impossible to see further than their hand, and the
temperature rises dramatically with the height of every
inch, firefighters depend on that fire hose to find their
way through many obstacles. The firefighters’ goal
is to find and rescue victims overcome by the flames and
smoke, but for the elected officials engaged in this
exercise it is merely to make it through the obstacle
course.

It was a very difficult, physically exhausting day with
firefighters, and one that many council members and mayors
will remember as they consider policy that affects their
city.

ULCT is a
nonpartisan, inter-local, government cooperative working
to strengthen the quality of municipal government and
administration. The League serves as a voice for Utah’s
245 cities and towns at the county, state and federal
level.