In the heat of the moment at winter fire school; STGnews Videocast, Photo Gallery

WASHINGTON COUNTY — Hundreds of firefighters representing many of the 268 fire departments that exist in Utah have been present at the Utah Valley University Fire and Rescue Academy’s two-day winter fire school in Washington County, which began Friday and continues through 5 p.m. Saturday.

The two-day course, which costs $40 per attending firefighter, provides hands-on experiences, including how to drive a firetruck via a driving simulator worth approximately $500,000; learning how to properly cut into a roof using a chainsaw; firefighter safety; extrication; rappelling down a building; and fighting an active fire within a trailer, Program Manager Dave Owens said.

Utah firefighters get hands-on learning at the Utah Valley University Fire and Rescue Academy's winter fire school program, St. George, Utah, Jan. 9, 2015| Photo by Holly Coombs, St. George News
Utah firefighters get hands-on learning at the Utah Valley University Fire and Rescue Academy’s winter fire school, St. George, Utah, Jan. 9, 2015 | Photo by Holly Coombs, St. George News

The $150,000 program is funded by a mill levy collected through 1 1/2 of 1 percent of fire insurance premium taxes that are paid by Utah homeowners, Owens said.

The program’s first years consisted of three small classes taught to less than 100 firefighters at the Ramada Inn, located at 1440 E. St. George Blvd., but the fire school has grown to encompass approximately five locations within Washington County this year.

Owens said some fire departments have made the 23rd annual Winter Fire School a requirement for its firefighters, while other participants choose to attend independently.

Aaron Jones, with the North Logan Fire Department, operated the driving simulator, which gives firefighters the experience of what driving a firetruck in tough conditions is like.

“It was very informative,” Jones said. “The steering was very touchy, but I think it will be a great tool for firefighters to get to used to being behind the wheel.”

Capt. Brian Allred, of the South Jordan Fire Department, said firefighter survival was the focus this year within most of the courses.

“This is just another way to improve your skills and learn more about what you do,” Allred said.

Utah firefighters learn how to help each other down a ladder in an urgent fire situation during a course at Utah Valley University Fire and Rescue Academy's winter fire school program, St. George, Utah, Jan. 9, 2015| Photo by Holly Coombs, St. George News
Utah firefighters learn how to help each other down a ladder in an urgent fire situation during a course at Utah Valley University Fire and Rescue Academy’s winter fire school, St. George, Utah, Jan. 9, 2015 | Photo by Holly Coombs, St. George News

Each course has taught the participating firefighters how to survive in bad situations. Every drill has addressed scenarios in which real firefighters have been killed because of improperly followed procedures, Allred said. During the school, firefighters have learned the correct way to get someone down a ladder, get someone out of a confined space, or climb out a window.

“It teaches them how to do it within minutes, not hours,” Allred said.

A flashover stimulation was conducted at the old airport on the Black Hill and was among one of the most popular courses. Kevin and Brittany Caldwell, both firefighters with the Hinckley Fire Department, said the course provided the experience of how to fight a real fire.

“The experience is dark with a lot of smoke,” Brittany Caldwell said. “With gear on, it’s hard to see and communicate to make sure your partner is OK.”

The flames of the flashover within the fire school trailers reaches almost 900 degrees.

For Jo Jensen, of the Tooele County Fire Department, becoming a firefighter has always been her dream, and she said she wants to serve and help save lives.

“I just want to make a difference in one person’s life,” Jensen said.

The school continues Saturday until 5 p.m. at various locations, including the Dixie Convention Center in St. George; two locations in Washington City, including the Washington City Fire Department; the Main Street Plaza parking garage in St. George; and the old airport on the Black Hill in St. George.

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