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Coffee break Bulletin

Virtual reality training may save firefighter lives

Posted: July 8, 2020

Learn how virtual reality training may save firefighter lives.

From 2008-2019, 109 firefighters lost their lives due to training injuries. While many of these may be attributed to personal health issues, the majority comprise a senseless loss of life. If you are a training officer looking for a practical, safe alternative to dangerous live fire scenarios, take a look at virtual reality (VR) training.

VR training saves lives and resources

VR technology is raising the bar in firefighter training while helping save lives and conserve valuable resources. The use of VR technology allows training for incidents that cannot easily be replicated or may be very costly to recreate, not to mention eliminating the hazards involved in “live training.”

VR can be used for individual and group learning using 360 media (2D and 3D) and creating 3D VR objects and environments. It can also be used for virtual meeting spaces.

The leading cause of firefighter death during training is stress/overexertion (70%). The remainder of deaths are attributed to falls, vehicle collision, self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) failure or environmental exposure.

VR benefits to the fire service

  • Safe training environment with 360-degree views.
  • Less wear and tear on personal protective equipment (PPE) and response equipment.
  • First-line equipment remains available in its response area.
  • Create VR 3D spaces from photographs and videos of actual buildings in the response area.
  • Repeat after-action response scenarios.
  • Training anytime/anywhere.
  • Improved safety inspections and 3D visualizations of buildings within first-due areas. This gives the ability for walkthroughs and “what if” scenario development.
  • VR technology allows you to keep the learner immersed and present in the moment, thus tapping into a truly experiential moment.
screen capture of NFA burn cell view

VR training: National Fire Academy burn cell view with room temperature scale.

Adopting VR

  • Use the Coffee Break Bulletin Evaluating Your Need for New Technology to help evaluate a VR program for your department and to help choose hardware and software.
  • “Off the shelf” VR equipment and apps can be adopted for use in the fire service with a low entry cost. At a higher price point, “Enterprise” business VR solutions and custom software for emergency services are available that will provide a robust VR system.
  • Virtual environments are not without risk. A VR-specific policy and training materials should be in place to outline responsibilities and review safe operation prior to use.
  • Critical to the use of VR is the quality. Sound and visual quality with the intuitive interactions creates the truly immersive experience.

Of course, VR does not alleviate safe practices. Always maintain:

  • Proper health and fitness.
  • PPE, SCBA and response equipment.
  • A safety mindset. Preplan scenarios, keeping in mind situational awareness and real-world hazards.

Train like it is real; train as if your life depends on getting it right.

Suggested virtual reality resources

Our thanks to Chief Rick Huffman, Gladstone Fire Department, Oregon, and Richard Sexton, training specialist/curriculum manager, U.S. Fire Administration/National Fire Academy for their contributions to this Coffee Break Bulletin.

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