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The City Journals

Four Taylorsville residents among 26 UFA firefighter trainees preparing to battle flames

May 03, 2019 10:45AM ● By Carl Fauver

Three women and 23 men make up the record large class of Unified Fire Authority trainees now going through their 16-week program. (Carl Fauver/City Journals)

By Carl Fauver | [email protected]

Four Taylorsville residents, including a 2013 Taylorsville High School graduate, are among the 26 Unified Fire Authority trainees now entering their final month of training as they prepare to join the UFA force.

“I don’t think we have ever had a training class this big,” said Veteran UFA Assistant Chief Jay Ziolkowski, who represents his agency at Taylorsville City Council meetings. “We had more than our normal number of retirements last year. We are also converting a few part-time positions to full-time jobs. That combination forced us into this larger training session.”

Luckily for the fire department — and unlike the Unified Police Department — UFA continues to get enough qualified applicants for jobs with an average starting salary of $44,000 per year.

One young lady, in fact, has held this dream for more than six years since before receiving her Taylorsville High School diploma. Corin Stamp couldn’t be more excited about reaching the final month of her 16-week training course.

“I first got to know the Unified Fire Authority when I worked an internship with them while still attending high school,” Stamp said while taking a short break from her training. “I have remained with them — working in various jobs — while looking forward to becoming a firefighter.”

The other three Taylorsville residents attending the training — who moved into the area more recently and did not attend Taylorsville High — are Dan Leifson, Tyler Beckstrom and Lisa Zezas. Stamp and Zezas are two of only three women now undergoing the challenging training.

“They have been very good about setting up real-life scenarios during our training,” Zezas said. “I grew up in Wyoming and trained to be an EMT there. But I moved here in hopes of working for a larger fire department. I am happy to be here. The training is challenging but in good ways.”

Only one of the four Taylorsville residents is following in firefighter footsteps of an older relative. Granger High School graduate Dan Leifson’s uncle is a volunteer fire chief in rural Utah.

“I grew up in a very tight-knit neighborhood where everyone was always helping and looking out for everyone else,” Leifson said. “I learned at a young age that happiness in life is based on service to others. So, I love the thought of following my uncle into firefighting.”

The final Taylorsville resident in the training, Tyler Beckstrom, graduated from Copper Hills High School in West Jordan.

“This is something I have wanted to do for a long time,” he said. “I believe this kind of work will provide great job satisfaction.”

The UFA training session is so large this time around, trainees have been split into two groups, with each attending sessions four days per week. The entire group of 26 overlaps for training on Wednesdays.

“I don’t recall ever having a firefighter training group with even 20 recruits in it,” said Unified Fire Authority Battalion Chief Matt Rhoades. He has been the agency’s division chief over fire training for one year, with an overall seven-year background in the field. “The timing of this training is good, because this group will be ready to join us just as fire season peaks at the end of May.”

For their 16 weeks of training, the new recruits drive about as far west as you can get in the Salt Lake Valley, to the UFA training facility on 8000 West at 3950 South in Magna.

“We have 15 acres here, including a training tower, a warehouse, two ‘burn’ buildings (metal shipping containers where live fires are ignited), classrooms, office space, even showers and kitchen space,” Rhoades said. “The elite Utah Task Force One disaster response team also trains here, with representatives from multiple agencies.”

Indeed, parts of the training complex also look like news footage from third-world countries, with a rubble (disaster) field and crumpled, burned-out cars and vans.

“We use those for vehicle rescue training,” Rhoades said.

The current training session began Feb. 3 and is leading to a May 30 graduation. Along the way, the 26 recruits will spend one night at the camp to practice overnight call-outs.

“We don’t have dorm space at our training facility, but we will squeeze cots into all different areas to accommodate everyone,” Rhoades said.

To demonstrate physical aptitude to be firefighters, the recruits do not undergo traditional tests such as push-ups, pull-ups or timed running. Instead, they must pass several physical agility tests.

“We require recruits to drag a fire hose 100 feet, drag a body dummy through a maze and other things to demonstrate they can handle the job physically,” Rhoades said. “We also run a pretty stressful, paramilitary camp with lots of testing and a demerit system. We make sure they are ready to handle the job before they are allowed to graduate.”

Rhoades said this current group has proven to be above average.

“We normally have two or three recruits drop out during the 16-week course for various reasons,” he said. “But this group had only one person drop out of the original 27 (as of mid-April, 10 weeks into the training).”

Taylorsville is one of several municipalities that contracts for its fire suppression with Unified Fire Authority. City Councilman Curt Cochran is grateful to have them in place.

“Firefighting — actually any type of emergency and public safety response — is such an admirable and honorable profession,” Cochran said. “Thankfully, I have not had to call them to respond to a fire, but I have gone on ride-alongs. They are very quick and professional. They are top notch, and it is up to (the city council) to give them the resources they need.”

Firefighting hits close to home for Cochran, as his older son, Nathan (35), is a firefighter for the South Davis Fire Department, while his younger son, Nick, 26, is undergoing firefighter training right now. Nick Cochran is training through Sandy City and is not a part of the current UFA program. Both of Cochran’s sons are also licensed EMTs.

“There are things my oldest has seen that I would not want to see,” Curt Cochran said. “It takes a special type of person to do this kind of work. I’m glad my sons are able to do it, and I am pleased Unified Fire is made up of people like that also.”

In a departure from years past, the UFA hopes to no longer conduct 16-week firefighter training sessions “randomly, as needed.” Instead, they now plan to offer this course only once a year, meaning the next one will get underway next February.

Those who graduate will remain on a one-year UFA probationary period, as they continue to receive hundreds of more hours of on-the-job training.