Ariz. firefighters design highly detailed simulation program

By James Gilbert
The Sun 

YUMA, Ariz. — Firefighters with the Yuma Fire Department have created and are using a computer-based simulation training program to help them hone their decision-making processes while at the scene of a fire.

"It is a broad-based learning tool with applications for almost everyone in the department," said YFD spokesman Mike Erfert. "This allows us to provide the experience without having to actually go to the scene of fire."

According to Capt. Daniel Padilla, firefighters will use the simulator to practice incident command procedures for a variety of emergency situations such as dwelling fires, commercial and large structure fires, catastrophic disasters and major emergency events, such as hazardous material releases and mass casualty incidents.

"It has been designed to better prepare the firefighters and command officers facing the challenges present when dealing with these types of fires and emergencies," Padilla said.

The simulator is set up in what once was a storage room at Fire Station 1. The mock vehicle, which is centered in the middle of the room, was made from a truck given to the YFD by the U.S. Border Patrol, and painted and marked to resemble one of their command vehicles.

"It took about two years for us to get everything together," Padilla said.

Hanging above the vehicle from the ceiling is a projector, and in front of it is a huge video display screen. The firefighter going through the training sits in the front seat of the vehicle and practices the incident command procedures based on the scenario unfolding on the screen.

Padilla explained that during the training, a video is projected onto the screen using computer-generated special effects, graphics and animation software. It is controlled, he said, through a standard personal computer by menu-driven software.

"The layout work is very tedious, but we can create a computerized scene of any situation. We can add any effect we want. For example, we can take a scene and put smoke and flames coming out of windows of a building. We can even add people."

Although the main computer for the simulator is in an adjoining room, Padilla said it can even be accessed by remote and operated from any other computer at the station. It is also been networked to computers at other fire stations.

Padilla said the computer program even allows them to upload pictures and other information. He said firefighters have spent many hours going around town taking pictures of buildings and homes.

"Each fire station has been responsible for getting the needed information from their area. We are constantly updating it as new places are built."

In addition to providing visual and auditory cues, which help make the program as realistic as possible, it also provides multiple vantage-point views of the scene.

The program is so detail-oriented, Padilla said, that they have also been able to add information such as aerial maps, design schematics that show the layout of the buildings, where dangerous hazards are located inside each building based on the type of business it is, and even the locations of fire hydrants.

"It also tells us the size of the water mains in the area. That way we can tell how much water will be available."

Future plans, Padilla said, include adding video of a walk-through of buildings and shots of fire crews responding to a scene.

"There is still a lot more we can do."

Copyright 2009 The Sun

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