WEBER COUNTY, Utah (ABC4) – Politicians often find themselves in the hot seat and in Weber County that saying is more than just a figure of speech. Today, a handful of elected officials suited up, entered a burning home, and trained to be firefighters. ABC4 got to take a look inside that training and learn why it is so important.
“We’ve got a single story,” a voice rumbled over the static of a radio. A house was on fire. Moments later, two firefighters risk their lives by entering the home to save anyone inside.
A loud hiss quickly turns into a scream as flames shoot towards the ceiling of this small building. “Spray it!” A firefighter yells to the elected official holding the fire hose. The flame is soon extinguished.
This fire, luckily, was just a simulation. No family lost their home today, but rather firefighters created the fire in a trailer that was built specifically for this purpose. Firefighters go through these trainings regularly and they are crucial in keeping the first responders on top of their game. This training served another purpose.
“It was much more intense than I expected,” Ken Phippen told ABC4 after going through the simulation for himself. He is the mayor of Farr West. He was one of a handful of leaders from cities across the county to train with Weber Fire District.
Throughout the day, the elected officials would participate in other scenarios as well. One of the other scenarios was a hazmat call at a local church building. The scenario involved a letter that had a mysterious powder substance in it. While this may sound like a scenario that would rarely, if ever happen in northern Utah, officials said it happens regularly.
“I’ve always had and have even more respect for firefighters,” Phippen stated.
West Haven City Council Member Carrie Call took part in the training as well. “It’s a hard job and you’ve got a lot of details to pay attention to,” she said after going through the fire drill herself.
What is the purpose of inviting elected officials to train alongside the firefighters who protect their cities? the elected officials were invited to train alongside the firefighters who protect their cities? Well, Spencer Winn told ABC4 that it teaches them “what their fire department is doing for them, for their community. It gives them a first-hand look into how we operate and how tough the job can be.”
The job is even tougher as of late. Every responding fire engine should be staffed with four firefighters. Two who remain outside on the engine and two who enter the home. These are the first to respond to a call and will be there until help arrives. However, currently, Weber Fire District can only send three firefighters out on an engine.
“We’re grateful to have the weber fire district support our community, and they are short staffed as I am talking with them,” Call stated.
Spencer Winn is the president of Weber Fire District Local 1878 which is a chapter of the Professional Firefighters of Utah (PFFU) organization. He told ABC4 that having to reduce the number of firefighters on an engine isn’t something the district has had to implement super recently. Sadly, it’s been this way for a while now, and it’s not something that only WFD is going through. Fire departments across the state, and country, are having a hard time with staffing.
There are many factors that may be playing a part in the firefighter shortage. However, funding may play one of the largest roles. Even the state’s largest fire department, Unified Fire, offers a starting pay that is under $50,000.
The salary for firefighters is left up to local leaders who approve of city and county budgets. Having those elected officials experience the training firefighters go through firsthand may help them better understand what the true worth of first responders is when it comes time to discuss the budget.
“You want them to be there when you need them,” Phippen said. “If they have troubles, if things are old and broken down, they’re not going to be able to do what they’ve got to do; and somebody’s home or somebody’s family, you might lose both or either.”