COLLEGE PARK, Md. (WJZ)– In recent years, we’ve seen what a difference first responders make when disaster strikes. Firefighters know that with each call, they could save a life or lose their own.

Kai Jackson suited up for a rare look at what it’s like from inside the fire.

“There’s nothing like being in a building filled with fire and smoke,” said Ken Ulman, Howard County Executive.

The reason people become firefighters vary, but the ultimate goal remains the same.

“The first priority is search and rescue, look for trapped occupants. Life before property is most important,” said Andrew Pantelis, Prince George’s County Fire Department.

On a warm day in College Park, the Prince George’s County Professional Firefighters and Paramedics Association gives elected leaders, the media and other civilians a glimpse into their world.

It’s called Fire Ops 101, and it required participants to take part in a controlled burn inside a small building wearing a breathing apparatus, all in all 50 pounds of gear.

“Wow, that’s no joke,” Ulman said.

The class also knocked down a gas fire.

“This is demanding, much more so than I expected,” said Prince George’s State Attorney Angela Alsobrooks.

Those who were not claustrophobic could also help in a small space search and rescue.

Throughout the day, the training took its toll on the body and the brain.

“Very enlightening, extremely enlightening,” one participant described her experience.

Here’s how Jackson describes it: “The heat was unbelievable,  much higher, much hotter at the top, cooler at the bottom. And again it gives you an idea of what the firefighter is dealing with once they’re inside of a place with the fire, the smoke and the heat.”

Public officials, whom control the budgets needed to hire firefighters and paramedics and purchase the vast amount of hi-tech and expensive equipment needed to do the job, also got a chance to witness this first-hand.

“You got to see the speed of how fast the fire can develop. And if not kept in check with fire sprinklers or detected early with smoke alarms, they pose a tremendous risk to citizens,” said Lieutenant Bino Harris.

The Prince George’s County Professional Firefighters and Paramedics Association says its goal is to give people a real life experience so the people who fund their department understand why they need such high-tech supplies.

All participants in Fire Ops 101 made it through the process, and there were no reports of injuries.