MAGNA, Utah (ABC4) – For anyone who ever wanted to be a firefighter for a day, a few lucky people in Salt Lake County recently got their chance. One of those lucky few was ABC4’s own Brian Carlson. He goes inside the Unified Fire Authority and their local union‘s “Fire School” in this edition of Behind the Badge.

Rushing in burning buildings, saving lives, or ripping apart cars – it’s a daily job for firefighters in Salt Lake County.

But on this day, they’re not putting out fires. Unified Fire Authority and the Salt Lake County Professional Firefighters (Local 1696) are holding “Fire School,” letting a select few see what’s like to be a real firefighter for a day, like public figures, including different city council members, public relations or tech people, and Brian Carlson – the only Utah journalist invited.

Firefighters want those with a public voice to make sure they’re basing what they know about firefighters on something other than what you may see in the movies.

“A lot of it comes from Chicago Fire or Reno 911, right? Obviously, TV doesn’t reflect reality,” said Unified Fire Authority Paramedic and Firefighter Emily Mahaffey. “So, it’s different to put turnouts on and actually move in them. Then you have a sense of how hard the job actually is.”

Today’s fire class is more than just getting a front-row seat. Firefighters had Carlson and others gear up in fire pants, jackets, masks and helmets to see how well they could handle a hose and put out real flames.  

The class’s instructors taught Carlson and the group about how hot certain household items can get, “basic scenarios” on a vehicle, and gave small lessons on the gear they were wearing.

Carlson learned if you don’t hold the hose just right, it can get away from you. Once the fire was out, it was time to tear things up.

Unified’s Heavy Rescue Techs taught those in class how to rip open a car with heavy machinery to potentially save someone stuck inside. When you compare how they did to how quickly and cleanly heavy rescue technicians can cut through it, city leaders said it’s easy to appreciate what these firefighters can do.

Riverton City Director of Communications Joshua Lee told Carlson he was surprised by the weight of the gear and equipment used by firefighters.

“I thought I was a fit person and could run around in all this get-up – you’ll get worn out very quickly,” said Lee.

“It’s eye opening for sure. It underscores the value they provide. I think oftentimes we’re a little bit oblivious to that,” said Holladay City Council Member Ty Brewer.  

To help those in class gain that higher perspective, firefighters also had them climb a 100-foot engine ladder. The class also went through a “confined space” drill, teaching them that fighting a fire is just as much about what they can see as it is about what they can’t.

“We do a lot of things blind in house fires and we do a lot by feel,” said Mahaffey. “The idea is that I’m able to walk around a house or crawl around a house, and by feel I can tell you if I’m in a kitchen, a bathroom.”

Mahaffey explained the drill teaches firefighters to feel certain textures in the dark. She said she is able to feel windows and find points of exit. The drill helps firefighters trust senses other than sight and smell.

Getting a sense for fighting fires, cutting open cars, or even what they need responding to hazmat situations, fire school was a full education.  

Ty Brewer said it was far more than he expected. For Carlson, it was maybe too hot to handle. Others gained more than they thought.

“A man or woman’s judgement is only as good as their information. So, coming here and see what they do firsthand, it gives you perspective for who’s coming down the street to help you out,” said Joshua Lee.

Firefighters hope that new view carries over when the same city leaders make decisions on fire funding, ensuring crews’ impressive demonstration responding to a fire is also the same one that shows up to your house when you have a real fire.  

Something else ABC4 learned at fire school, for every house fire call they get, U.F.A. sends out three fire engines, a ladder truck, an ambulance and a battalion chief. They said that typically wipes out the staff of the three closest fire stations.