SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) – The bravery of firefighters is often depicted in Hollywood movies. For them, being fearless may appear completely natural, but it’s not something every firefighter is born with.

“Unable to know what’s in front of you or what’s behind you – that’s really scary,” said Firefighter Jahn Davis, Unified Fire Authority Station #121 of Riverton.

Davis said when he first started 10 years ago, he had a real problem crawling through tight spots in a burning building, especially when smoke made it impossible to see.

“I didn’t like confined spaces, but over time I learned how to overcome crawling through tight holes, dealing with having a facemask on your face all the time,” said Davis.

Unified Firefighter Kelly Bird said he used to be nervous too.

“The nervousness was probably, ‘What did I get myself into?'” said Kelly Bird, Unified Fire Authority, Public Information Officer.

Bird still recalls showing up to his first fire, shocked by the heat.

“I remember very specifically, we pulled up, the fire was on my side of the rig. I opened the door and that blast of heat just hit me and I thought – ‘Here we are, this is for real’,” said Bird.

For both men, becoming brave took time.

“I think courage comes with experience, comes with time on the job,” said Davis.

Like most new firefighters, that starts with getting real fire experience at the Unified Fire Academy in Magna.

“You go through four months of on-the-ground training,” said Bird.

Our ABC4 cameras were there last Spring as academy instructors like firefighter Tommy Miller taught cadets the techniques needed to become confident in their abilities and protect themselves from unnecessary danger.  

“It’s just kind of building blocks so we can get them to where they go out and do the job as soon as they’re out of here,” said Tommy Miller, Unified Fire Authority, Fire Training Instructor.

“You learn about the environment, what the fire can do, what the smoke can do,” said Bird.

“Having repetition, having training to help you know what to expect in those times, really helps you gain some of that confidence,” said Davis.  

As much as responding to fires over and over again settles the nerves, Davis said holding onto some of that fear actually helps when unexpected problems arise.

So, is fear of fire healthy?

“That good fear is healthy… it just helps you get in that groove of ‘Okay, I’m recognizing this, there’s no water in the hose, what could happen if there’s no water in the hose?'” said Davis.

They said problem-solving as a team helps firefighters know they can trust each other with their lives, and that becomes part of the foundation for the tight bonds many share together.  

“I think that’s how it develops that brotherhood and sisterhood that we enjoy, is that we put ourselves in situations where we have to put that trust on each other, and when that’s fulfilled, that just brings us closer together,” said Bird.

Brothers and sisters in bravery, overcoming the same natural fears one may expect witnessing a wall of flames in a Hollywood blockbuster, learning to use fear to their advantage, gaining trust in themselves, and each other, and rushing in when others are running out. They said one of the things that also helps is working with good, experienced firefighters. They said their confidence rubs off on you, and believe it or not, they said if you’re doing the job right, the site of a fire can even be a safe environment.