Fire games in Orem pit recent academy graduates against alumni

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OREM, Utah -- 'Tis the season for reindeer games, bowl games, and fire games.

Driving a metal object with a sledge-hammer, splitting logs with a heavy ax, and kicking through four sheets of drywall were all part of the fire games held by Utah Valley University’s Recruit Candidate Academy.

It’s a competition between new graduates and alumni of the school's emergency services department. The teams compete in nine events that simulate firefighting skills, like a good old-fashioned bucket brigade.

"There's always a winner, and so far most of the wins tend to go to the alumni,” said Jake Dennison, an instructor at the academy. “We get a lot of the real strong athletes that come back and compete."

This year marks the 12th run of the semi-annual fire games, and the graduating class is the 71st to go through the program. The academy lasts 16 weeks and teaches firefighting skills as well as haz-mat awareness and operations.

Recent graduate Michael Pickett said he can't wait to be a firefighter: “Where else can you drive a fire truck and get paid to put out fires? Get on a roof with a chain saw and cut a hole: It's pretty awesome."

Pickett's family came from California to watch their son graduate, and they were among about 300 friends and family members of the participants who attended the games and the graduation ceremony.

At first, Pickett's family said they had reservations about their son pursuing a career as a firefighter. But, not now.

"Seeing the program and seeing what they do, I’m totally enthusiastic about it,” David Pickett, Michael’s father, said.

Their son hopes to get a firefighting job soon, and he's applied in Salt Lake, Ogden and Las Vegas.

In previous years, the fire games included a rope climb, arm wrestling and even sumo-wrestling. However, those events have now been replaced by new ones that more closely align with skills needed to be a firefighter.

While the alumni tend to win most years, this year the graduating class won the game with a tie-breaker tug-of-war.