A handful of Utah County leaders proved Wednesday that they can take the heat — even if just for a morning.
“I learned No. 1, I could never be a firefighter,” Provo Mayor Michelle Kaufusi said.
Kaufusi joined other local politicians for the Utah Fire and Rescue Academy’s Fire Ops 101, the first of what’s expected to become an annual event inviting legislators to experience what it’s like to be a firefighter. Participants suited up to try their hand at car extractions, navigating a smoky trailer and driving a firetruck simulator at the academy, located at Utah Valley University in Provo.
The exercises ended with the leaders watching firefighters put out two couches they lit on fire. Participants were able to interact with firefighters and trainers from across Utah County, including hearing a presentation about the cancer risks to first responders.
The simulator included having the participants strike a fictional child that darted in front of their truck. Kaufusi was rattled by the incident, which she said will stick with her.
Kaufusi said she does not have the physical or mental strength to be a firefighter.
“The most important thing is my appreciation and gratitude of our firefighters quadrupled after experiencing it firsthand,” she said.
She said police and fire services remain at the top of her priority list as mayor.
“It isn’t for the meek and mild to be a firefighter,” Kaufusi said. “It is the real deal.”
Wednesday’s event sprouted from the desire to have political leaders experience what it’s like to be a firefighter.
“We call them our support people,” said Dennis Goudy, the quality assurance risk management program manager at the Utah Fire and Rescue Academy.
He said the staff wanted the leaders to know what the academy does, which included delivering about 500 off-site courses between July 2018 and June 20.
“When you are in a position where you are working inside an office, you are working at the rules, the regulations of how public safety is administered without really being right there with boots on the ground to feel some of that,” Goudy said. “It is hard sometimes to go further in your knowledge base on that.”
Goudy said the best public safety officials are the ones who have experienced what it’s like to do the job. The politicians’ experience Wednesday, he said, will help them make real-world decisions.
The academy is already planning next year’s event.
“We anticipate that it will be bigger and more robust,” Goudy said. “Perhaps we’ll get more people.”
Rep. Adam Robertson, R-Pleasant Grove, came into the event wondering how the academy relates to UVU. He said he learned Wednesday how the academy travels to rural fire departments that don’t have training budgets that would allow them to send their staff to the academy in Provo.
“The academy goes to you,” Robertson said. “I think that is huge.”