Virtual reality training on display at firefighters convention

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind.  – Firefighters attending this years’s Fire Department Instructor’s Conference in downtown Indianapolis are getting their first look at a new, virtual reality training system.

The technology, designed by “Flame Systems,” is engineered to give a realistic simulation of various fire emergencies in a virtual environment.

“We’ve just launched here at the show today, and this is the first time the North American market has seen this sort of technology,” said Flame Systems spokesperson James Mullins.  “What we’re trying to do is bring all the realism of a fire fight into the virtual environment to give people that experience.”

Simulated emergencies on display included a kitchen fire, a propane tank leak and an aircraft fire.

The system consists of a set of VR goggles that provide a 360 degree view of simulated emergencies in real time.  It also includes a fire jacket that can be heated to simulate heat radiating from a virtual fire.  The hose held by a firefighter training on the system is attached to a reel that pulls backward when water is being sprayed.

“When you turn on the nozzle, it gives you that push-back pressure, which you would experience in real life,” said Joe Kuperus from Alexandria Minnesota.  “When we did the propane scenario, you can definitely feel the heat that was supposed to be radiating from that.”

All the components of the system are hooked to a computer that runs the simulation and tracks various metrics during the exercise.  The computer keeps track of a firefighter’s timing and water usage, as a way to gauge how efficiently a firefighter responds to each situation.

“Pretty hot new technology,” said Christopher Miller, from Indian Land, South Carolina.  “It’s different, it gives a whole new perspective on training.”

Miller says he can see a lot of potential for the VR system when it comes to testing new recruits.

“Put them in and introduce the environment, and then you can kind of discern then and there if they’re ready to take the next step,” Miller said.  “It’s better to make a mistake in augmented reality than it is to make that mistake in the real world.”

Mullins said a department that wanted to purchase the system would likely end up spending around $30,000.

Kuperus said a price of that size could make sense if the VR system was taking the place of other training costs, such as fuel, equipment and other resources.

“Trying to find houses that we can utilize to burn down or do actual live scenario training is getting harder and harder,” Kuperus said.

Roughly 35,000 firefighters from around the world are expected to take part in this year’s FDIC International.  Classes, seminars, and hands-on training exercises around central Indiana will continue through the rest of the week.