More than 50 years ago, leaders in the fire service and adult education recognized that Utah's firefighters were not well trained. At the time, fire departments set their own standards and operating procedures. Four fire training programs existed in the state, all having ineffective free-standing programs, and the meager state funding was split among them. The system did not work.
In 1959, the State Board of Education commissioned a study concluding that all fire training should be consolidated under one agency with a strong emphasis on outreach programs. This plan was put into place in 1960 when Central Utah Vocational School (CUVS) was designated by the Board as the Fire Training School. CUVS Later became Utah Technical College (UTC), then Utah Valley Community College (UVCC), then to Utah Valley State College (UVSC), and now Utah Valley University (UVU).
In 1971 the Legislature passed the State Fire Prevention Law (HB 347), giving the Fire Prevention Board to work with the Board of Regents and the Board of Education to develop a statewide fire training system. Funding, at that time, permitted one person to coordinate the program and several part-time field instructors to travel the state. The Board of Regents gave the sole role assignment to Utah Technical College at Provo. The poorly funded program struggled to help but was unable to provide an adequate level of service.
A plan was then developed that showed a new State Fire Academy to be built at the new UTC-P in Orem. UTC President Wilson Sorenson stated that the academy would be the first facility to be built on the new site but the Legislature funded other projects instead.
Over the years there were various disjointed attempts to fund the state academy project but the plans never came to fruition. It was not until 1992 that a coherent and comprehensive Strategic Plan was developed under the leadership of State Fire Training staff and fire service representatives from all over Utah. The planning process brought together a broad cross section of the fire service and other public officials. Consensus was reached regarding the necessity of maintaining and greatly expanding a centralized training and certification system with a vigorous and comprehensive program of outreach activities. This strategic plan addressed the details of passing legislation with a funding mechanism. It also outlined the multi-year steps required to complete the project.
In 1993 the Utah Legislature passed House Bill 155 (sponsored by then Representative John Valentine and co-sponsored by 30 other legislators) which modified the state Fire Prevention Law and assigned a percentage of insurance premium taxes to a restricted account within the Department of Public Safety to support Fire Academy programs, as defined in the law and in the Administrative Rules of the Fire Prevention Board. The Academy is designated the "Utah Fire & Rescue Academy" in administrative rules. By contract, the Academy operates at UVU and administers a greatly expanded and dynamic training, education and certification system which is based on the fundamental idea that the State needs to provide standardized high quality fire and rescue training and support to fire departments wherever they are located. It has become a "one-stop-shop" to help meet the multiple needs of departments statewide.
The mission of the Fire & Rescue Academy is "To educate, train, support and certify emergency services, governmental, and private sector personnel in public management, emergency services, and homeland security." This statement directs every goal in our Strategic Plan and every dollar spent to implement it.
Approximately 10% of Fire Academy Support funds go back to the fire service in the form of Utah Fire Department Assistance Grants that are available only to departments working towards professional certification and reporting their fires to the State Fire Marshal. These grants provide basic equipment and training expenses. The bulk of the money goes to the neediest departments and is combined with Federal dollars into a joint grant fund administered through Utah Forestry, Fire & State Lands. In 2013 $750,000 in grants will be provided.
The Utah Fire & Rescue Academy has evolved into a unique organization that provides fire and emergency service related training, education, professional certification and resource assistance. These services are provided at UVU through grants and contracts with state, federal and private sources of funding. The Academy funding is earmarked for the provision of specific educational and training programs. These offerings include:
The Academy is located at the Provo Airport at a 10 acre training facility with a wide range of fixed and mobile simulators to safely train responders in the latest techniques of emergency response to any type of incident. Most training, however, is done around the state on a regional basis that leaves personnel close to their response areas.
Regional classes are done at the Academy and at various fire departments. Since there are very few facilities to perform hands-on training, UFRA Support Services division runs a fleet of over 40 motorized vehicles, mobile props and trailers to support on-demand classes statewide.
UFRA has been an innovator in distance education, customer service, certification, outreach activities and technology. A few examples are: