Fire departments across the country are embroiled with city government regarding budget cuts and spending. Departments have made various decisions on how to reduce spending and still maintain a level of service that affords its citizens protection. Most of the time, training is the first to get cut and usually vehicle operations are the first in that group. Fuel, maintenance and vehicle use has a large price tag over time, and the training cannot be duplicated or reviewed accurately and can be dangerous.
Due to this hard reality, managers and administrators have sought out new and innovative ways of training to help maintain the department’s effectiveness. Simulation training has been one of those areas. It is important to realize that there are two types of simulation. One is an actual fire, such as a flashover simulator that has little interaction, but lets students experience the intensity in a relatively controlled setting. The other is virtual-reality simulation that allows the student to experience a dangerous situation in real-time, but mostly requires them to make decisions based on the information presented at the time.
Conferences, such as the IAFC Innovation Conference, enable consumers (the department) to discuss with vendors their needs and desires, and what limitations, usually money and technology, constrain the vendors. It is at these meetings that technological breakthroughs happen, such as with two-seat driving simulation.
Training the individual is important so he or she understands their role within the team, but training the team helps build cohesion and flexibility so each individual knows the other team member’s role.
Until now, this type of simulation training was constrained due to technological limitations. Viewing angles in driving simulators were created for the driver’s eye-point only, and anyone seated or standing slightly to the side of the driver would have a skewed view that exacerbates dizziness and discomfort.
But a breakthrough in technology now allows a driver and an officer or crew member to experience, react, and make decisions based on real-time events simultaneously while responding to and arriving on scene of an emergency situation.
How simulators help
When powerful training tools like simulators are used, training efficacy increases, both in time management and the amount of knowledge absorbed. When conducting crew training, several objectives can be met simultaneously. (See table.)
|Fire Apparatus Operator (FAO)||
Prior to leaving firehouse
|Ensure vehicle integrity (instrumentation)||Ensure seatbelt compliance with rest of crew.|
Enroute to call
|Scan and assess defensive driving and roadway command.||Radio communication, directions, siren, and air-horn.|
|Analysis and clearing of intersections.||Assisting with clearing right side of vehicle.|
|Hazard avoidance.||Assisting with scan and assess of roadway.|
Approaching scene and on scene
|Vehicle placement based on vehicle type||Preliminary scene size up, hydrant location, assessment of exposures.|
|Once positioned, PTO engaged.||Initial scene size up, radio transmission of incident, request for additional resources.|
|Decide to operate in command or attack mode.|
All of this can be accomplished within a single, three-minute scenario. A two-seat simulator enables both the operator and the officer to improve on their decision-making skills and the operational components when first arriving on scene. The crew trainer also can be used to assess potential officer candidates and allow other department members to experience the responsibilities of that position.
How simulators help
One of the failings that we have in the fire service is that we fail to bridge our training. An example that has come up time and again is when to call a mayday. Training normally would consist of common fireground operations or a firefighter in distress. Rarely do we train to recognize the moments leading up to the mayday.
Two-seat simulation bridges the gap between driver training and a full incident command simulator. In the mayday scenario, both the driver and the officer would respond out of the fire station. The driver concentrates on the emergency response and the officer formulates an action plan based on information received while responding and implementing the initial phase when pulling up on scene.
Training in a simulator doesn’t limit oneself to only working with a single piece of apparatus. A scenario can have multiple units responding to almost any type of event that you can imagine, such as WMD events, highway rescue, major structural fires, and hazmat situations. Simulators can be linked and multiple students can train and interact within the same scenario or train independently.
Imagine the logistical nightmare, expense, and commitment of resources to be able to stage such an event in real life, these types of events are usually a once a year drill that requires a number of agencies coordinating and planning months prior. But in the simulator, the scenario that was just driven as a pumper can now be switched (with the click of a button) to a ladder truck, now requiring the students to reassess their vehicle placement and operational needs.
Perhaps a department has issues regarding backing or intersection collisions. Scenarios can be created and customized to meet department needs and issues based on accident reports and diagrams. Scenarios can be used to train on common operational issues, such as house fires or on less common, but equally dangerous situations, such as an explosion with a secondary device.
In one scenario example, students encounter civilian vehicles that fail to yield the right-of-way or other emergency vehicles that may be responding to the same incident (or perhaps another incident assigned on a different frequency). Use of Opticom-activated lights also can be simulated while two units approach the intersection from perpendicular streets. This type of scenario is extremely beneficial; it makes the student vehicle and the opposing vehicle collide unless the proper action is taken regarding the light sequence. As long as the student makes and executes the proper decision, the collision will be avoided.
Behavior modification takes place in simulator scenarios. When negative behavior is constantly met with a consequence, the bad behavior is eradicated. When positive behavior is constantly met with a positive response, bad behavior is again eradicated, most of the time the student isn’t even aware that this is taking place. Gaining knowledge is another way of limiting bad behavior, but knowledge doesn’t always change behavior. People have the knowledge not to tailgate, speed, or text while driving, but emotionally they still choose to not necessarily do the right things.
But, having experienced a bad outcome when a bad decision is made in the simulator, the student develops emotional scarring without the physical trauma. This scarring is an imprinting on the brain that the student will transfer out of the simulator and into the real world.
The brain always recognizes that the student is in a simulator, but the mind recognizes the event whether it is real or simulated. So, when a similar situation unfolds in front of him or her they will have already gained the experience in the simulator and be able to make a more informed decision the next time.
When simulation is added to a program, the department has added another layer of protection in the event of a lawsuit from a collision. When instituted properly with a regimented program, these departments have reported that their collision rates have dropped as much as 50% and the payouts from remaining collisions have dropped more than 46%, resulting in substantial savings in other areas like worker’s compensation, back filling of vacancies, and collision repairs.
Creating a second viable training seat in a driver training simulator exponentially increases the efficacy of a training program and bridges the gap between incident command simulation at the fireground and the first priority of arriving safely, then taking initial command of the scene. In addition, simulation maximizes the training modalities without adding time to the program, and it lowers fuel and maintenance costs by reducing the need for additional hours on vehicle use. Students have demonstrated an increased learning curve in a shorter period of time and programs have an improved passing record.
Robert Raheb, EMT/P, CIC, is a retired lieutenant from the FDNY EMS. He currently is a emergency response training specialist for FAAC Inc.