History of UFA
On November 21, 1921 Salt Lake County Fire Department was formed under the direction of Chief Albert Marriott. Throughout the department’s history, members have worked to enhance fire service and improve service delivery to the residents of the Salt Lake Valley. The department was instrumental in helping with the development and design of the first water carrying engines to be used in the Midwest, and for instituting an ambulance service to address the need for rapid transport to the hospital.
Salt Lake County Fire continued to grow, transform, and solidify through the decades. During the 1970’s, the department certified all employees as EMTs. A few years later, the department participated in some of the first Paramedic training offered by sending nine Firefighters to Los Angeles, helping pioneer the Paramedic program for the State of Utah. Over the next several years, the department introduced multiple specialized response teams such as HazMat, Heavy Rescue and Wildland Teams.
Discussions for the formation of a unified fire department within the Salt Lake Valley began in 1998. For many years, Salt Lake County Fire provided emergency services to several contract cities in addition to the Unincorporated Salt Lake County. While each city appreciated the service delivery of the County Fire Department and wanted expand the relationship, problems existed within the relationship as well. There was no direct avenue for the elected officials of their respective cities to vote on current issues or budget proposals, and changes in the service package for one city periodically affected another city detrimentally. These issues, in addition to administrative concerns for the ability to develop and carry out long-term planning, added to the need to move the department in a different direction.
In September 2003, each of the respective mayors came together, with the voting approval of their councils, and signed a 50-year agreement creating the Unified Fire Authority. In 2004, the Fire Department ceased operating as a department within Salt Lake County Government and became the Unified Fire Authority (UFA), a quasi-governmental organization. At the same time, Salt Lake County leaders worked within the Utah State Legislature to make changes to laws regarding the creation of a Fire District. Once the legal issues were resolved, the County Council took steps to create a Fire District for the unincorporated areas of the County. Unified Fire Service Area (UFSA), a special service area that pays for its services with a property tax, was formed and quickly joined the UFA.
Don Berry served as the Fire Chief for Salt Lake County since 1993 and became the UFA’s first Fire Chief. Chief Berry successfully led the transition from the County to the Independent Fire Authority. Chief Berry successfully gained support from a newly formed Board of Directors and began long term planning for the needs of the service area laying the groundwork for the construction of several fire stations and the addition of the cities of Midvale and Eagle Mountain to the UFA.
Deputy Chief Michael Jensen assumed the role of Fire Chief in 2011 and continued implementing the planning established by Chief Berry, completing the construction of the final stations in this wave of growth. In 2016, several challenges with Chief Jensen’s leadership were identified and reported on by local media. In addition, the Utah State Auditor initiated a formal Audit of the organization. By mid-2016, the four top administrators were no longer employed with the UFA.
Assistant Chief Mike Watson was appointed as the interim Fire Chief in July of 2016. Interim Chief Watson began communicating with the organization and reestablishing trust while the Board conducted a search for a new Fire Chief. The State of Utah released their report in January 2017 with 51 findings resulting in 126 recommendations to correct the deficiencies identified. During this period of unrest, the City of Draper elected to leave the UFA and form its own Fire Department.
In January of 2017, Dan Petersen was appointed as the Fire Chief/CEO. Chief Petersen was the first Fire Chief hired from outside the organization. Chief Petersen came to Utah after a 38-year career in Oregon with the last six serving as a Fire Chief / CEO of an independent Fire District. Chief Petersen immediately began reestablishing trust with the employees, the Board of Directors, and the communities. All recommendations identified in the audit were completed by the end of 2018. The UFA adopted a new model for assessing member fees, an award-winning budget, a community based strategic plan and an employee development plan to help establish a sustainable future for service to the community.
In April 2020, a revised and restated Interlocal Agreement was adopted by the governing bodies of all member agencies. This agreement replaced the 2004 agreement and clarified the scope of services provided, defined the governance and administration, reduced Salt Lake County from three to two positions on the Board of Directors, and adopted weighted voting using 50% population and 50% of the Member Fee percentage. The agreement also refined the process for withdrawal and admission of new parties.
See UFA’s History in Pictures.