Burn simulation shows what it takes to be a firefighter after recruitment low

SALT LAKE COUNTY, Utah - Unified Fire Authority held a fire simulation Monday, encouraging volunteers to join after recruitment numbers have dropped 70 percent in the past ten years.

“We’re looking for competent people,” Unified Fire Authority Assistant Chief Jay Ziolkowski said. “People who bring a great skill set, diversity of thought and mind, ideas and background experience, education.”

Recruitment volunteers showed off their training skills as they were timed, putting on and taking off their firefighting gear.

Emily Mahaffey, who has been in the training program for more than a year, said she’s the only female on the crew and it’s hard work, but worth it.

“It’s a hard job,” Mahaffey said. “It’s really physically demanding. It’s taken a big toll on me this summer, but it’s been incredibly fun.”

Mahaffey and her fellow recruitment members went through three burn simulations: first, entering a house through the front door. Second, entering through the second story window to rescue a dummy victim. Finally, they rolled out to fight a burning car.

“This job is super fun,” Mahaffey said, still in uniform. “I encourage people to try it.”

Ziolkowski said the only requirements for volunteers are a driver’s license and a high school diploma.

Ziolkowski said, “we respect values and integrity—those are the qualities that we’re looking for. We’ll teach you the rest.”

Ziolkowski said he hopes to have 15-20 new volunteers every year, now that they are opening up recruitments yearly instead of every two years, which was previously done.

With an increase in wildfire numbers and intensity, Ziolkowski said volunteers don’t just have to become firefighters. Other divisions, like Paramedics, go through the Unified Fire Authority program too.

“Take your passion and turn it into your trade,” Ziolkowski said.