Virtual Blazes: How VR can change firefighter training

Paul Speight, watch manager with Leicestershire Fire & Rescue Service (LFRS) has been spearheading the push to introduce VR training for firefighters and explains how VR could help trainees tackle real world blazes.

RW: How has VR impacted the fire service’s training process?

PS: LFRS has been given the national lead to implement VR in the UK fire service and our fire investigation team can’t believe something as simple an idea ticks so many boxes. It does everything that we’d spend two days doing can now be done in an hour in VR.

It’s going to change the way the fire service, not just in the UK, but fire services around the world train, there’s no if’s or but’s about that.

We made a 360 training film and we called that ‘virtual reality’ at the time. I went to the emergency services show, the NEC, where I met the team from RiVR, we visited them at their office and I saw the potential VR offered for fire investigation, which can be really difficult to train officers in.

At the moment, we have to use a metal container that’s boarded out, painted, decorated and furnished. We then burn it, put it out and let people go in to investigate that scene.

Fire investigation is all about starting in the area of least damage and moving to the area of most damage; removing items to look at, examining burn patterns and smoke patterns, but when there’s another course to be held, you can’t do that.

If you’ve got 15 courses going through that one container, the first 14 courses can’t remove anything to have a look.

We can now recreate that environment through photogrammetry, allowing every 3D modelled item to be removed as you would in a proper investigation.

Once the user comes up with their conclusion and hypothesis, they can hit the reset button and everything goes back into the next scene.

You have the ability to take photographs in the scene which can be sent to the forensics lab, so if you want to look at anything in more detail, it’s there for you to look at.

The fire investigation is just the start of a sweep of an environment that we’re going to develop, so the fire investigation itself will possibly have up to a dozen different types of scenarios in VR.

The aim is to make fighfighers better. They can respond quicker, they can provide a better service to the community they serve, it’s better for the environment and it’s safer.

 RW: Does this allow new recruits to train in environments that were previously impossible to create safely?

Some of the environments that firefighters have to go in to make it impossible for us to put trainees in dangerous real world environments purely because of the dangers involved.

But now, we can do that in the virtual world. If it goes wrong, we hit the reset button and start again. We keep going until that procedure is embedded in the recruits’ minds and when they face that kind of situation for real, their decision making is far better because they will have become acclimatised to the situation.

It will impact on everyone from new recruits to senior managers, it will cover the entire spectrum of people working in the fire service.

There’s already been interest from the police, especially from forensics, they’re really interested in the fire investigation.

RW: Will you be keeping an eye on how the training will affect recruits?

PS: We will have a comparison between people who don’t undergo VR training and see how they progress, as early indications say that training in virtual reality enhances learning by accelerating the learning process, creating muscle memory so we want to put that to the test.

We have ‘have a go’ days when we’re recruiting. Right now, it’s labour intensive and very expensive having people on over time but we can now do it in the virtual world.
All it will take us is three or four days to set it all up, film it in 360 and use photogrammetry or laser scanning to create the scene, so if people are scared of heights, for example, we don’t have to put them on a ladder to find that out.

We believe it will change the way humans learn. There’s quite a few academics who seem to think that VR might be the last learning medium, it’s hard to see what can do better than being totally immersed in your training.

We’re now looking at the way we do our education in schools, we’ve started using 360 films with headsets to educate young drivers on road safety and that’s been a massive hit, it’s made a difference in people’s attitudes to driving and that’s gone global.

Everyone knows VR’s good, everyone knows it’s coming and how it’s going to change the way we train.

Read the full article here – How VR is changing the training experience

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