Victoria’s Country Fire Authority (CFA) is gearing up for a pilot of virtual reality training ahead of incorporating VR simulations into its ‘business as usual training’ regime.
VR can help prepare firefighters for dangerous and complex scenarios that are difficult to replicate using conventional training methods.
The volunteer-based CFA provides emergency support to 3.3 million people and 1 million homes spread across more than 150,000 square kilometres in rural Victoria, as well as out Melbourne suburbs.
There are more than 1200 CFA brigades, and the organisations has around 58,000 volunteers as well as 600 career firefighters and 1200 support and admin staff.
The move to employ VR simulation follows a 2018 CFA roadshow that highlighted the potential use of the technology for training.
The roadshow involved a VR firefighting simulator dubbed ‘FLAIM’. FLAIM was developed at Deakin University’s Institute for Intelligent Systems Research and Innovation and then in 2017 spun out into a startup, FLAIM Systems.
In addition to a VR headset, FLAIM incorporates an industry standard hose-line system and protective clothing that incorporates heat generation.
“After a virtual reality trial last year, CFA members endorsed this training method,” Aaron Stockton, the CFA’s computer simulation specialist, told Computerworld.
“During the roadshow CFA members provided overwhelming positive feedback, as such CFA has asked for expressions of interest for a virtual reality firefighting system for use in experiential learning.”
The CFA this month launched the formal expressions of interest process for a VR firefighting simulator. The organisation said it wanted to pilot a computer simulation and VR training system before incorporating it into the CFA’s ongoing training.
EOI documents state the CFA is after a mobile system that can deliver a “realistic, immersive and high-fidelity firefighting and emergency response experiences”. Out of the box the system would need to support training based on at least two of four potential scenarios: Compartment fire behaviour, foam delivery, structure fire, and grass and/or scrub fire. New scenarios would be expected to be rolled out every six months.
“This tender closes on 26 September with the aim of rolling out a virtual reality firefighting system in 2020.” Stockton said.