US Fire Department Launches VR Training Programme

Clackamas Fire District has invested $50K into the new technology

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Published: June 4, 2024

James Stephen

Clackamas Fire District has ploughed $50K into a VR training programme for its firefighters and paramedics.

The money went into purchasing virtual reality (VR) software created by the Australian company EmergiSim, with headsets costing much less by comparison that are available to buy from Amazon for $199.

The online resource for firefighters, FireRescue1, published an article explaining how the software could simulate various high-stress scenarios, such as protests, shootings, and even terrorist attacks, to help prepare first responders for the real thing.

Rick Huffman, Division Chief of EMS, Clackamas Fire District #1, shared his thoughts about the new VR training programme: “The bottom line with this type of training is [that it allows us to] train for a lot of victims. That’s something we don’t do very often.

“The cognitive science behind virtual reality is proven. Your brain thinks you’re actually there.

Huffman continues:

“Nothing replaces real, but this inoculates you [against the stress of the real thing]; this prepares you.”

Training with VR

Huffman also commented that these immersive experiences are much more engaging for trainees than simply taking notes in a classroom setting, and that ordinary videos don’t have as great of an impact from a learning perspective as VR.

The most attractive factor about implementing a VR training solution, he explains, is that they have simply been shown to work.

A study in 2021, for example, by researchers at Nanjing Medical University in China found that using VR to train performed significantly better in exams and tasks compared to those students using traditional learning techniques.

First responders at Clackamas Fire District have reportedly already demonstrated their ability to retain large quantities of information relating to their field when using the VR solution.

Clackamas Fire District is the second-ever fire department in the country to implement EnergiSim’s VR programme.

The first time to introduce it was Emergency Medical Services Authority in Oklahoma, which began using it in 2021, although it apparently experienced mixed results with the technology, including the possibility of inducing feelings of nausea and vertigo.

Nevertheless, the medical organisation is continuing to use the programme, but it is still stuck in the testing phase due to “organisation changes”, according to the agency’s spokesperson.

Huffman has said that he will also make it possible for anyone on his team experience any negative reaction to the VR to be able to continue their training via the standard video format.

Providing everything goes smoothly, Fire Chief Huffman plans to roll out the training programme by late summer, with a view to eventually implementing it throughout all of the department’s 25 stations.

Associate Medical Director for EMS Agencies in Clackamas County, John Turner MD FACEP, explained how the virtual reality training “creates the opportunity for lower-stress training in what can be very stressful situations.”

Turner also attested to the programme’s feeling of realism:

“Having crowd noise in the headset, having sirens going in the headset, just makes it very real. It takes it to the next level.”

Virtual reality is becoming more and more prevalent as a training solution across all regions and industries.

In February, Nottingham University opened a virtual reality classroom, enabling lecturers and students to engage in remote viewing and communication.

Last year, the AA partnered with AruVR to prepare its workforce for any situation using VR immersive learning modules.



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