FLAME-SIM: Virtual training packs big results
With budgets tightening and the number of fires decreasing, more departments are turning to the benefits brought about by simulation software.
Allen Fire Department, in Allen, Texas, has been working with FLAME-SIM since October 2008. They have seen the cutting edge simulation software positively impact their training program, as well as their budget. The results and monetary benefits Allen Fire Department (AFD) has experienced with FLAME-SIM are not only evident in numbers but also in the confidence of their personnel.
Assistant Chief Kurt Hall of the Allen Fire Department is writing a thesis paper on the effectiveness of simulation in training fireground command, decision making, and communication. Chief Hall chose FLAME-SIM as the simulation software to use for his thesis and it will be distributing the full results of the study in April of 2010. It has kept in touch with Allen Fire's Chief of Training Jonathan Boyd and learned some of the effects he has seen from using FLAME-SIM to train his department.
Chief Boyd compared the repetition of assigned duties of one of the AFD company officers. In all of 2008, this Company Officer was called to four confirmed fires, with two interior assignments. During that same year the Company Officer had no RIT Attack assignments and never acted as Incident Commander. In three months of using FLAME-SIM, the same company officer had participated in twenty four training exercises with twelve interior assignments, eight RIT activations and acted as Incident Commander six times.
Chief of Training, Jonathan Boyd, shared some of his thoughts about FLAME-SIM: "The software has allowed us to train multi company decision making and communication more often than in the past." After each training exercise the firefighters that participated sat down and talked through the reasoning behind their actions and communications and compared them to departmental standard operation guidelines. Together with Training Chief Boyd, they noted the actions and communications they completed well and those that needed work. The group would then participate in the same scenario working on the issues that they hadn't executed well the first time. This method corrected and reinforced proper procedure through repetition.
First, the most common of tasks are sometimes hardest to change, especially something as common as radio protocol. For years, AFD started every communication with "Engine X to Command" or "Command to Truck X". New NIMS protocol required AFD to change to "Command from Engine X" or Truck X from Command". In the past changes like this would have taken months of breaking old habits on the fireground. Because Allen used FLAME-SIM to train their Officers more often, the entire department was using the new radio protocol consistently in about two weeks.
In the past, when Allen Fire conducted mutli-company training at a burn tower, they would commonly bring two apparatus to the tower at a time for the training. This allowed the interior companies and IC to train, but would leave out the remaining first alarm companies. Now with FLAME-SIM, the third, fourth, and fifth arriving companies are allowed to participate with the first two companies more often. This has resulted in a much smoother and more coordinated fire attack, allowing firefighters to get to the fire faster and more safely.
Chief Boyd has also noticed less freelancing on the fireground. He attributes this change to the number of times the companies have operated together in FLAME-SIM. "Now that we can train together as a full first alarm executing our orders in a virtual world, we see less freelancing on the fireground. Everyone understands the plan and their role to get the job done right".
Effective yraining at the right cost
These experiences and improvements come at a minimal cost in relation to traditional training and can even enhance and improve the safety of personnel. In the summer of 2009 AFD ran 91 fire personnel through forty-four different FLAME-SIM training sessions. The goal of the training scenarios was to improve incident command performance and decision making at critical junctures; such as initial size up, offensive fire attack, occupant rescue, and RIT activation. Running nine firefighters in two scenarios a day would have taken AFD 223 days of burn tower training at a cost of almost $111,500 to get the same experience. Again, AFD completed this training in three months with no tower rental costs and no out of service or back filling of companies.
FLAME-SIM is also much safer than traditional fire training. In 2007, the NFPA reported that over one half of all firefighter injuries occurred on the fireground or during a training event. According to another study released by NIST in 2004, the average firefighter injury costs between $45,000 and $90,000. Using FLAME-SIM for training allowed AFD firefighters to better understand and follow SOGs and safety procedures on the fireground making everyone safer and avoiding potential injury.
Using FLAME-SIM has allowed for Allen Fire Department to run hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of training at a fraction of the cost and word is starting to get out. Departments across the US and Canada are starting to see the value of FLAME-SIM as their premier training solution.
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