Cutting Edge Technology Can Provide Immersive, Real-World Training
Physical training to build agility, strength, and endurance is important, but it probably isn’t what saves lives when we run into a burning home to rescue a family. When it comes to learning how to be a firefighter, fire behavior, situational awareness, and risk management are just as important, if not more so.
Emerging technologies like virtual reality and augmented reality now offer realistic fire training programs to teach those aspects of the job without putting trainees at risk. While it can’t replace actual on-theground training, it’s being seen as a tool to supplement real-world conditions and to save costs.
Many firefighters train at fire academies offering 600-hour programs that take about 12 to 14 weeks to complete. To help students gain actual experience, instructors use live-fire training so students can practice handling a fire hose and methods of fire attack. Some of us might take our education a step further, earning two or four-year degrees to prepare us for higher levels of employment.
But live-fire drills can be dangerous, expensive and hard to set up. Also, a decline in structure fires across the country means many of us aren’t getting the same level of training.
Virtual reality, a computer-generated experience – often involving a headset – that provides audio, visual and other types of sensory feedback, is moving beyond gaming into training and education. In some cases, it’s combined with augmented reality, which displays virtual information like text or imagery over the real world without obscuring our field of view. Augmented reality is showing up in commercial uses such as Google eye wear and digital cameras.
Virtual reality training programs can create life-like scenarios in the classroom, fire station or training academy. Immersed in these scenarios, trainees can enter unfamiliar structures to perform lifesaving maneuvers and gain experience with fire dynamics, tactics and techniques.
It can help them size-up a fire and recognize building construction issues and hazardous materials. It can also help them learn situational awareness and signs of certain medical conditions. And it can help instructors evaluate trainees’ performance and give feedback on their decision-making process and reasons for their actions.
Virtual reality can also monitor how we respond to stress. For example, it can show how a perceived life threat can raise our heart rate and diminish our hand-eye coordination, perception, thinking, hearing, vision and focus.
Several companies are now manufacturing virtual reality training systems and collaborating with fire departments to test them. One virtual reality simulator, the FLAIM Trainer, was developed by two partner companies, Dimension Data, a global technology integrator, and FLAIM Systems, an Australian-based virtual reality start-up.
This system includes a headset and several features that create authenticity, such as a weighted jacket with heat generating components, a breathing mask, and a patented haptic feedback system, according to New Atlas, an online technology magazine. The hose simulates the force of the water flow, while the protective clothing contains heat packs that warm up as the wearer approaches the virtual fire.
The material in the jacket can track and replicate the trainee’s movements. In some scenarios, the tracker is attached to the end of a fire hose, so the trainee may extinguish virtual fires with real-world equipment.
The tracker can also measure the wearer’s ECG, or electrocardiogram readings, and transmit the data in real-time to record and benchmark their fitness, physiological response, and performance.
“Instructors can monitor the trainee’s vital signs, physiological responses and performance during training,” according to a recent Business Insider article about the FLAIM training program. FLAIM was scheduled to begin distribution in North America in May. The FLAIM Trainer was on exhibit at the Fire Department Instructor’s Conference in April.
ADMS-Fire, based in Orlando, also offers a virtual reality training simulator with an augmented reality that displays critical information without obscuring the firefighter’s field of view.
With this simulator, trainees can use a real fire hose with a branch pipe to practice opening and closing the nozzle, control the rate of agent dispersion and choose between a jet stream and spray.
This system can help train firefighting and ventilation techniques and tactics, recognition of hazardous situations and how to work as a team, according to the ADMS-Fire website. It can also set up scenarios to simulate interior fires, exterior fires, flash over and back draft, as well as rescuing people from a house fire. Sometimes, designers combine simulators with drones to create virtual reality training videos.
Vector Solutions worked with Pasco County Fire Rescue last year to create one of the first virtual reality scenario-based training videos in the country. With the help of a drone, they shot a 360-Degree Virtual Reality video from a two-story building in downtown Dade City, which was chosen because it’s similar to the types of buildings firefighters often have to enter. Trainees can watch the video online or put on the virtual reality goggles and enter a virtual rescue environment.
“While virtual reality training can never completely replace actual hands-on training, Pasco County Fire Rescue Chief Scott Cassin said it does allow them to simulate certain situations that are very difficult and costly to reproduce on their own,” according to a recent blog on the Vector Solutions website.
Have you, or any of your colleagues, experienced virtual reality training? If so, share how it prepared you to fight fires in the real world below.
1. Irving, M. 2018. “VR Firefighter Training Simulator Keeps Big Data Close to its Chest” Retrieved from https://newatlas.com/flaim-vr-firefightingsimulator/55713/
2. Brandy, D. 2018. “I Tried a New Virtual Reality Program That Puts Firefighter Trainees in Front of a Raging Fire to Prep Them For Life-Threatening Situations” Retrieved from https://www.businessinsider.com/virtual-reality-firefighter-training-what-its-like-2018-8
3. Simulation Training Systems. ADMS-Fire. (nd) Retrieved from http://www.trainingfordisastermanagement.com/products/adms-fire/
4. Rego, S. 2018. “Behind the Scenes: Vector Solutions Creates First-of-its-Kind Virtual Reality Training for Firefighters” Retrieved from https://www.vectorsolutions.com/news-media/blog/behind-scenes-vector-solutionscreates-first-kind-virtual-reality-training-firefighters/