Incident Command Simulator System Put to Use in Midland, Ontario

 (1) Training was provided in a multiscreen environment with an instructor, a facilitator, and a student PC. Depending on the student's performance, the facilitator could add or remove threats by responding to the decisions the student made.
(1) Training was provided in a multiscreen environment with an instructor, a facilitator, and a student PC. Depending on the student’s performance, the facilitator could add or remove threats by responding to the decisions the student made. (Photos courtesy of DriveWise.)
 (2) Personnel went through three scenarios during the training: a motor vehicle collision, a residential structure fire, and an industrial warehouse.
(2) Personnel went through three scenarios during the training: a motor vehicle collision, a residential structure fire, and an industrial warehouse.

Simulation-based training is starting to take hold in the fire service. Simulation technology for driver training has already been used to provide more realistic scenarios for trainees. It allows trainers to evaluate future drivers in safe environments during scenarios that can be stopped at any time. To gain emergency situation experience, trainees have only on-the-job training in many departments. Simulation allows emergency-speed realism in a safe environment.

But, driving is not the only area in which the fire service has employed simulation. Last fall, the Midland (Ontario) Fire Department sent personnel through two days of incident command training using the e-Semble XVR simulator by DriveWise and software partner FutureShield.

The Simulator

XVR is an interactive incident command and scene control simulator that is instructor-driven, according to Lesley de Repentigny, president and CEO of DriveWise. Learning outcomes are determined by the trainer and the client. The scenario can increase or decrease in difficulty, depending on how the student is progressing. “DriveWise has in-house subject matter experts that work with our emergency management clients to build programs that focus on areas that require more intensive training,” says de Repentigny. “This ensures that all personnel have the knowledge and prioritization skills necessary when they arrive on scene.”

de Repentigny adds that the XVR system works for all levels of emergency response. “From chiefs and high-level officers to front-line officials, responders get hands-on experience with their role either as a standalone unit or as part of a multiple-station exercise,” she says, adding that the system is also capable of interagency response to encourage open lines of communication between law enforcement, fire, and rescue.

Going with Simulation

Kevin Foster, director of fire services and emergency management for the Town of Midland, says there were a couple of reasons the department went with simulation training for incident command. “We used simulator training previously for some apparatus driver training, and it was well received,” he says. “Second, we are a small composite department with one station, 12 career suppression staff, a career training officer, a career fire prevention officer, and 20 volunteer firefighters. We are challenged to undertake practical scenario-based incident command training/drills. All of our career staff are called on from time to time to fill the role of incident commander (IC).”

So, the department found it a reasonable way to overcome many of the challenges involved with doing this at a training location such as cost, resources, locations, facilitators, and time for getting all the staff together. “We were able to run students through at least three scenarios and provide some refresher incident command training in a much more time-effective manner,” says Foster.

Personnel went through three scenarios during the training: a motor vehicle collision, a residential structure fire, and an industrial warehouse. “Each had the flexibility to be changed to give each participant the same type of scenario but different parameters around each incident,” says Foster. “For example, each student had a fire or chemical incident, but where one had the residential fire and a chemical release at the warehouse, another student may have had a fire in the warehouse and an unknown odor at the residential structure.”

de Repentigny adds that scenarios are created with the department, taking into consideration the challenges individual departments face, which are then incorporated into the training program. “Fire departments can practice strategizing while replacing the existing tabletop incident command system with an interactive and immersive 3D solution,” she says. “Fire departments can build cause-and-effect situations to put students in high-risk conditions.” She notes that XVR allows students to make mistakes to learn the consequences of their actions, whether these actions are positive or negative. “Unlike most script- and fixed-based incident commanders, the instructor is in full control over the elements while the scenario is running. Objects can be added or subtracted on the fly, depending on how the facilitator feels the student is progressing,” she says.

Scenarios

The first step in the training included basic joy stick skills. Students learned how to move, look around, and use equipment such as binoculars, self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA), and meters. Training was provided in a multi-screen environment with an instructor, a facilitator, and a student PC. The instructor controlled the scenarios as the student moved through the 3D environments, making decisions based on the conditions he found. Depending on the student’s performance, the facilitator could add or remove threats by responding to the decisions the student made.

Students were divided into groups of four so each group would participate in one four-hour session that included going through the first five minutes of an emergency incident.

One house fire scenario included reports of an explosion and fire, while another one came in as a call from a neighbor reporting a house fire in which arriving units faced a possible rescue situation. A third scenario involved a large amount of black smoke coming from a duplex building. On arrival, flames were coming from the garage, with contents and gas connection inside the structure. Students also practiced smoke alarm activation calls, where crews found both nonactive fire situations and actual fire situations, a controlled burn, and various traffic incidents.

In all incidents, the student in command provided instructions and the facilitator ensured that virtual responders were reacting as instructed by the incident commander.

The scenarios could have been more complex, but Foster wanted to ensure his commanders were practicing the most likely scenarios to occur in the community since this was initial training.

Variety of Benefits

Foster says that the training was very well received and that there are several benefits of using simulation. “The benefits of using the simulator-based training are that the system is flexible to various environments and locations, incidents are easily recreated or replicated, and the facilitator can alter the incident scene based on the decisions or lack of decisions on tactics to deploy,” he says. “It is somewhat visually realistic and can be done in a controlled environment not limited by weather, environmental conditions, or using live fire. So, it’s safer and more environmentally friendly.” Other benefits included being able to control the incident and coach less-experienced students, as well as being able to take the training to a local fire station rather than having to commit a large number of personnel resources at a remote location.

“Simulations allow students the benefit of learning from their mistakes without fatal or catastrophic consequences,” adds de Repentigny. “The repeatable aspect of simulation exercises enables standardized training to be built, ensuring each participant has the same learning experience and level of complexity in training.”

Skills Maintenance

Firefighters must master a variety of skills that, in many municipalities, they are not called on to employ on a daily basis. According to Foster, simulation helps bridge the gap between the classroom and practical application. “Overall, I think simulator-type training will assist with maintaining skills that are critical to our business that we don’t use on as frequent a basis at actual incidents to maintain confidence and competency,” he says.

de Repentigny concurs. “Simulation training is the most effective way to practically reinforce classroom theory with safe, hands-on training,” she says. “Students can experience various levels of difficulty and be put in high-risk situations from the safety and comfort of the simulator.”

“There are a number of opportunities to focus on individual areas of concern,” adds Foster. “If you want to focus on passing command to a senior officer, you could set up an incident and make the timeline advance an hour or so and have the IC practice passing command to the senior officer. The flexibility is limited to one’s imagination. We had a very positive experience with this, and we will consider it as an ongoing part of our training program.”

Fire Training Officer Don Hebmer concludes, “It’s a great experience and brings home the incident command system. XVR is a great tool to hone your skills and play out scenarios. I think that a lot more departments should take advantage of it.”


CHRIS Mc LOONE, associate editor of Fire Apparatus & Emergency Equipment, is an 18-year veteran of the fire service and a captain with Weldon Fire Company (Glenside, PA). He has been a writer and editor for more than 15 years. While with Fire Engineering, he contributed to the May 2006 issue, a Jesse H. Neal Award winner for its coverage of the Hurricane Katrina response and recovery.

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