The Future of Firefighter Training – Realism – Safety – Sustainability
Initial and continued training has always been an important part of a firefighter’s job. To support this firefighter training centres have evolved and changed significantly over the past several years. The requirement to provide more useful and realistic training scenarios for firefighters has become increasingly necessary. Since the 1970s/80s the number of incidents involving fires has dropped considerably, and while this is of course hugely beneficial to society and firefighters alike, it does mean that regular frontline experience has lessened for the majority of those working in fire services. This frontline experience is paramount in maintaining proficiency and safe working conditions, so training that facilitates firefighters’ ability to be prepared for any scenario when it occurs is essential.
There has been a pronounced shift away from simple burn buildings with fixed-location LPG, or class A burn capabilities, to training centres more capable of flexible, ever-changing scenarios, presenting individuals with far more realistic situations they cannot specifically prepare for. These training centres can now provide facilities to train more advanced scenarios such as wind-driven fire, or compartmental fire behaviour. These training centres employ combinations of Class A and B fires combined with advanced safety systems and an array of modern sensors.
Due to technological advances and changing living habits, there are now a far larger variety of combustible materials which firefighter must tackle in their day-to-day activities. Changes in the safety requirements of vehicle construction and the prevalence of electric vehicles provide fresh challenges. Synthetic substances used in furniture and the interiors of modern houses have also increased the necessity of training to prepare for how these materials will respond in a variety of scenarios.
Firefighters are no longer simply taught to react to the situations they encounter, they require a more complex understanding of the science of fire itself. This will allow them to make more accurate predictions as to how varying conditions and ambient situations will affect the combustible materials involved in a scenario, the performance of their equipment, and even environmental impacts.
Global warming has also affected training, an increase in the number of wildfires in some areas, and flooding in others puts extra strain on already stretched emergency services. It is also another area in which knowledge and understanding of the wider situation, as well as the current emergency is necessary for an effective response. Training for this ever-increasing variety of scenarios must be wide-ranging and carried out in a controlled and safe environment.
Training centres can be fixed, or mobile, but usually involve some means of rearranging and altering particular scenarios. A limitation of simple, fixed training facilities is that if the building layouts and fire scenarios do not regularly change complacency can naturally set in. Firefighters will become accustomed to the floor plans and the limited scenarios themselves, which removes the element of surprise completely, which is one of the most vital aspects that fire training must tackle.
Effective training must encompass many aspects:
Fitness training – to ensure that firefighters are well prepared for the physical challenges they will experience and technological means to test and monitor fitness and safety.
Equipment training – to make sure firefighters are adequately prepared to use the increasing array of equipment they have at their disposal; in the variety of situations they may encounter. For example, the correct usage of breathing apparatus and safety equipment within confined and uncomfortable spaces. And understand the loss of sensory perception because of their very effective PPE, its limitations and both the physiological and psychological impact of firefighting.
Object Training – preparation for the wide variety of fixed and mobile objects firefighters will encounter, from road vehicles to aircraft, and industrial buildings to containment vessels of toxic or hazardous materials.
Situational Training – Adequate understanding of the effects of the environment on fire behaviour, for example, Wind-driven fires, and compartmental fire behaviour. As well as the environmental impacts of substances used to control and extinguish fires in particular scenarios.
When planning and designing a new training centre, fire services around the globe have similar considerations to make when training their current or prospective firefighters most efficiently. This means utilizing new methods of construction or incorporating new, advanced technology into the design. This forward-thinking approach ensures training centres remain relevant and effective for a prolonged period.
Crofton Engineering has extensive experience working closely with Architects and Design Engineers to solve unusual problems and has developed a comprehensive and skilled site installation service, which allows for endless flexibility.
Research carried out by Crofton Engineering, into the current training requirement has produced products designed to conform to guidance on safety in Drill Towers, Training Buildings and Simulators whilst also maintaining adequate focus on the necessity to provide a practical and safe training facility. Crofton Engineering recently completed a project in partnership with Cambridgeshire Fire & Rescue Service, to construct a modern training facility to greatly increase the effectiveness and capacity of training in the region. This highly flexible, modern facility will help crews prepare for emergencies for many years to come.
Digital Fire Technology
Digital fire technology is a relatively new development in the industry which has been employed over the past several years in training structures around the world. This technology uses LED screens to recreate flames and their patterns.
LION delivers revolutionary digital fire technology which allows any environment to become a training ground. This provides safe, realistic, self-generating flames which respond to firefighters’ actions. Advanced thermal sensors detect the application of a hose line and vary the digital flames in response. The screens are also hard-wearing and tough enough to handle rough treatment.
The use of digital fire technology allows training to take place where live fire isn’t a possibility, to help new trainees get comfortable in stressful environments. The ability to alter situations on the fly and maintain endless variety promotes teams’ ability to deal with surprises when encountering real situations. Sound effects and safe training smoke add realism to further immerse firefighters in the training environment.
Concept Smoke Systems provide a variety of artificial smoke solutions to use in tandem with digital fire technologies and live fire training buildings. Concept’s ViCount smoke generators are installed throughout the world in quality hot fire training centres and provide the most realistic, and non-toxic, artificial smoke effect possible. They are also used to add smoke during carbonaceous burns.
The majority of fire training centres and schools use gas to replicate the appearance and heat of a real fire, but this does not produce the smoke required to make these training scenarios as realistic as they need to be effective. The ViCount range of oil-based smoke generators produces smoke with temperature resistance up to 200c, providing the necessary realism, and can be added to Hot Fire simulators effectively and safely.
Their water-based smoke in contrast will layer at temperatures from 40—60C and so, if used in a hot fire compartment, the smoke is effectively pushed to the floor, so the trainees are standing in clear (though hot!) air. This allows a variety of scenarios to be recreated safely and effectively.
Digital technology is perfectly suited for training on initial fire attack, search and rescue, water placement, and hose line management. Digital technology focuses very much on the affordability and safety aspects of training, providing effective environments which do not require as much expensive construction and will not impact the health and well-being of trainees. The technology is especially helpful for new trainees with the ability to adjust the difficulty levels. Also, the dramatically lessened set up and clean up time allows more training to take place in a shorter space of time. It is of course intended to be supplemental to live-fire training, rather than a complete replacement.
The future of firefighting will see more and more applications of digital technology, which will require these continued advancements in training techniques. New equipment such as drones, robots, and automated systems will change the way firefighters do their job completely, and provide more, and more accurate data with which to improve performance in the moment, and future training possibilities. This will also contribute towards the safety of firefighters themselves, the public and the environment as a whole.
The Future of Firefighter Training is written by David Blackbourn Contributing Editor at Marcus Media.