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Adam Sotelo, Deseret News
Unified Fire Authority spokesman Matthew McFarland discusses a controlled burn at the department’s training center in Magna on Tuesday, April 16, 2019, which was designed to teach new firefighters the realities of battling fires. “This is the part of the fire academy where they get some real experience with hands-on fire,” McFarland said.

MAGNA — The problem with learning to be a firefighter is that the actual job of battling blazes is so dangerous, there is no such thing as on-the-job training.

Instead, Unified Fire officials do their best to create a situation that simulates what new hires might encounter on the job. Tuesday morning that meant having the 27 recruits hired by the department respond to a call to a controlled burn at the department’s training center in Magna.

“There aren’t many fires that happen day to day,” said Matthew McFarland, Unified Fire Authority spokesman. “When it happens, it’s a high danger event. … It’s a big risk factor.”

So having recruits respond to a controlled burn that simulates the kind of fires they’ll be asked to respond to is critical to preparing them for the job.

The recruits have spent several months in training, and are now considered ready for the field, although they’re still on probation. While they acclimate to “firehouse life,” they complete training under supervision, including fighting live fires like the one set at the training facility.

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“This is the part of the fire academy where they get some real experience with hands-on fire,” McFarland said, noting the recruits were assigned to one of three fire trucks for the exercise. “Once this gets up and burning, they’re going to be dispatched just like they would at the firehouse. … This is laying the groundwork for (fighting fires), and making sure they understand the basics of fire operation.”

Unified Fire officials said recruitment numbers have dropped about 70 percent over the last 10 years, even as the workload for firefighters has increased. The department will be opening another recruitment process for between 12 and 20 positions in July, McFarland said. Until then, there are a number of opportunities to get prepared for everything from the job interview to test preparations.

“We’re actively recruiting, and if you’re interested, we’d love to have you,” McFarland said.