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), formally giving the duty to 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 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.
85% of the fire fighters in Utah are volunteers. This dedicated group of nearly 6000 people provides an invaluable resource to their communities and to the State. A typical volunteer provides 6 hrs. of their own time per week serving the citizens. If these folks were paid a modest $10 per hour to risk their lives for their neighbors, the direct cost to Utah taxpayers per year would be in excess of $18,720,000 plus benefits. These valuable individuals deserve all of the support we can give them.
Additionally, about 1,500 career firefighters serve the most populous regions of the state that are experiencing the most stress on local services as growth continues to outpace available resources.
It is absolutely impossible in this age of litigation and expanding State and Federal mandates for safety and training for any department, paid or volunteer, large or small to provide all of their own training using in-house resources.
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. Unlike many plans that wind up on some shelf gathering dust until it's time to do a new one, ours gets used. In fact, the original version which helped the Legislature decide to enact HB 155 was fully implemented. Every goal that was set to be accomplished between 1993 and 1997 was accomplished. The plan is regularly updated with goals that build on the originals and set the direction to take us into the future.
Approximately 10% of Fire Academy Support funds go back to the fire service in the form of 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 the late 1990s, the Legislature established a task force, under the chairmanship of former Department of Corrections chief, Gary Deland, to examine the feasibility and desirability of consolidating police and fire training under one umbrella. The resounding conclusion of the task force and the fire service was: No, expanding the current system of fire fighter training provided the best avenue to accomplish the intent of the 1993 HB155.
Under the watchful eyes of the Utah Fire Prevention Board and the State Fire Marshal, the Academy continues to work toward fulfilling the daunting challenge of providing quality training, certification and resources as long as the Fire Academy restricted account funding continues to grow with the challenges of growth and technological advances. The small portion of insurance premium taxes which funds the Academy is arguably the most logical and justifiable expenditure on the books. Every dime goes to increase the safety of our communities.
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 to the College is earmarked for the provision of specific training and educational programs. These offerings have included training in wildland and structural firefighting, hazardous materials response, emergency medicine, rescue, emergency response to terrorism and numerous other topics. Students have included public safety personnel from both public and private agencies. The Academy has also been involved in the provision of fire safety and injury prevention information and training to citizens around the state.
The Academy is located at the Provo Airport at a 10 acre state-of-the-art 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. Activities 1993-Present
Since the passage of 1993's HB 155, the amount and quality of fire Training in Utah have increased dramatically. The central focus of the Academy's efforts has been to take training out to the firefighters. This primarily means hauling instructors and equipment to fire departments throughout the state. Equipment includes everything from TVs and projectors to semi-trailer based props for live fire attack.
A large number of regional classes are done at the Academy, at Salt Lake County Fire Dept's Magna training facility and at various fire departments. There are very few facilities available to fire depts. that have even the basics needed to perform adequate hands-on training. The attached document, Regional Training Ground Design Parameters, lists those requirements. Academy analysis has pointed out the need for seven regional facilities. These are UFRA, North, North Central, Metro, Uintah Basin, Southwest and Southeast.
The Academy's Support Services division runs a fleet of over 40 motorized vehicles and trailers. Many of these are Federal Excess Property, acquired through our partnership with the US Forest Service. Most of these FEPP vehicles are older (1980s) military trucks which the Academy has reconditioned and adapted to a specific use. Although most are dependable, few have amenities such as radio or air conditioning and maintenance costs are high. Ultimately we need to replace these with new vehicles that project a more professional image, more closely meet our needs and allow our mostly part-time cadre of instructors to arrive at their assigned class site without having been subjected to extreme heat and noise for hours.
Support services is also responsible for maintenance, delivery and pick up of the Academy's training trailers. These include live-fire trailers as well as a number of mobile training systems that enable local firefighters to receive specialized training at their stations or regionally instead of traveling to Provo or some other central place. To accomplish this, the Academy employees part time drivers to operate the 1.5 UFRA tractors. (The other .5 tractor is owned by UVU's Professional Driving program.) These drivers also assist in the FEP Program to get vehicles out to needy local departments.
Over the last five years the Academy has steadily increased the number of classes and instructor hours delivered in all formats including distance learning on the EDNET System. (See attached 1995-99 training summary)
One of the most serious problems facing the state is the necessity to provide certification for all levels of fire service personnel. The consensus reached in the planning process and now being executed, is that departments and individuals need an incentive to go through the hundreds of hours of initial and ongoing training to become and remain certified to national standards. There is a grant system jointly operated by the Academy and the Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands to encourage professionalism by making grants available to those working towards certification and reporting fires to the Fire Marshal. This grant has increased from an initial $90,000 to the current $231,000 from state and federal funds.