MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Firefighters are the first people we call when we smell smoke or see flames. We rely on them to save our homes and loved ones, while they put their own lives at risk.

On Monday, more than a dozen local and state leaders got a sense of what goes into fighting fires by getting a hands-on look at the different roles of the job. The local chapters of the International Association of Fire Fighters hosted Fire Ops 101.

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Even with the proper gear, instinct tells us not to go inside a smoke-filled home. Complete darkness and the race against time make it very easy to lose your way even in a controlled scenario, but these are the daily demands on a firefighter.

“People watch the movies. What a fire looks like in the movies is different from what it looks like in the fire,” Minneapolis firefighter Paula Pawlacyk said.

In this job, success is often measured in experience and the team beside you. The two are job requirements that are based on funding.

“We’ve been cut dramatically, likely many departments, we’ve taken a serious hit over the last 10, 11 years,” Mark Lakosky, Minneapolis Firefighters Local 82 president, said.

The fight to keep and add funding plays a significant role in the reasoning behind Fire Ops 101. State and local policy makers are encouraged to participate in several simulated emergencies. Participants wear the full firefighting gear while experiencing all aspects of the job.

Firefighting isn’t just limited to burning buildings; rescue operations and medical emergencies are also a big part of the job.

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“If someone calls 911, and it’s not for ambulance or police, we have to figure it out,” Pawlacyk said.

The controlled scenarios showed participants just how important it is to be fully staffed. Numbers translate into a faster rescue, which is a key component in saving lives.

“It helps me appreciate it. I think it helps everyone appreciate it,” Minneapolis City Council member Andrew Johnson said.

“This really will give me a better sense of what they’re talking about what their needs are,” House Speaker Paul Thissen said.

Experience may give a unique perspective, but the hope is it leaves a lasting impression.

“This isn’t about growing fire departments, this is about maintaining a level of service to keep us safe enough to be most effective,” Lakosky said.

While many departments have seen cutbacks in recent years, the firefighters did say they are starting to notice a shift. Both St. Paul and Minneapolis recently completed a cadet firefighting training course.

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Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges also included new funding in the proposed budget.