What does it take to be a firefighter? Saturday, a couple dozen Alaskans got to find out during the Anchorage Fire Department’s (AFD) citizen academy.

AFD holds the training so people have a better understanding of what it takes to do their job.

“We invite elected leaders, business leaders, members of the community that have maybe some sway or some say in what we do, and we can educate them,” said Anchorage Firefighters Union President Mike Stumbaugh. “And truly, what we really want, is people that don’t like us to come, so we can show them what we do and that when we ask for something that’s very expensive and big and shiny, we just don’t like nice shiny things, we need it for a certain purpose.”

Each participant was paired with a firefighter to shadow them and walk them through every challenge. Groups of five or less rotated through five different training scenarios: An EMS cardiac arrest call, truck operations, extrication, a car fire, and a live fire attack and behavior simulation.

It was a small taste of the tasks firefighters have to be prepared to perform at a moment’s notice.

In the cardiac arrest scenario, participants learned the “compression-only” CPR technique that AFD uses. The department’s survival rate for patients needing CPR is nearly 20 percent, which is twice the national average.

During the truck operations portion of the training, participants had to climb a ladder to the fifth floor of a building, then search for a victim in a second-floor room filled with smoke. Once found, they had to pass a 130-pound dummy out the window.

The smoke eliminates visibility, so participants had to use the wall to guide them to the body. Firefighters have some thermal imagine devices to help them see. The equipment once cost $25,000, but the price has gone down and they now run anywhere from $10,000 to $12,000.

The most intense challenge, was the live fire attack and behavior scenario. Wearing all the gear, several people did what sometimes just two firefighters do, carry hoses up to the second and third floors, where flames were waiting, at times, roaring above the participants’ heads.

“The flames are arching up over the ceiling,” said participant Jeff Landfield. “I have a lot of respect for these guys, and that was nothing they said, compared to a real [fire]. That’s controlled. Imagine going into a real fire.”

Just a tiny sample of what these firefighters do every day is enough to make one question why they do it. It’s hard, sweaty, scary work. They have a tough schedule and they never know if their next shift will be their last.

But Stumbaugh says it’s a calling.

“When you’re done with a day […] you truly can save a life sometimes. It sounds over dramatic but it’s not. Someone’s walking out of a hospital because you had the education, the training, and the wherewithal to go do it, and its pretty amazing,” he said.

Stumbaugh said the department’s call volume increases by about a thousand calls a year, so what the department needs right now is more people.

Saturday’s training was paid for by the firefighter’s union. They plan to offer it on a biannual basis going forward.

KTVA 11's Daniella Rivera can be reached via email or on Facebook and Twitter.