How to buy simulation products

By Brian Ward

There are a tremendous amount of programs available for firefighters to train with, from video games simulations to inputting actual fire scene pictures into our computers. The most important aspect with this type of training is the practicality of the system. Do you buy a system that has 10,000 features and pass it around the entire department? Or do you become creative with your simulations? These two questions will vary with the needs of your department.

Among the main things to consider when buying simulation programs are:

1) Department Size
Look at the size of your department and determine what you want to accomplish with the program. Inside a large department, it may be very hard for a couple of CDs to be passed around from station to station and shift to shift. In addition, you have to look at the cost associated with them getting scratched and lost. These types of CDs generally cannot be reproduced without buying a new program.

However, it may be very necessary for a large department to invest in such a program for formal training programs. Inside my career department with 800 personnel we use a fairly sophisticated simulation program for our Acting Officer and Acting Captains programs. Our goal is to provide scenarios in real time and as vivid as possible.

2) Promotion Needs
 Another situation that may cause you to consider buying such a program is for promotions. Promotional exams are a high stress environment for most, and as a proctor for a promotional exam you want consistency and uniformity within your program. Using such a system, during both your training classes and your promotional exams, can provide this.

3) System Needs
If your department is small in size, it does not necessarily mean a smaller program should be chosen. In fact, due to the small nature of the department it may be that a larger program is needed. Generally, there are one or two training officers and they can control the CDs from getting lost or scratched. In addition, because they will be using this system on a regular basis, they will be able to become very familiar with it. Once again, the very same program could be used for promotional exams here as well.

4) Practicalities
How practical is the use of such a system? Will you have someone that can be devoted, at least initially, to working with it in order to learn all of the intricate parts of the system in order to get the most out of its use? What are the logistic concerns with supplying your entire department with the same training opportunities?

5) Actual Results
Most importantly, what will your personnel take away from such a program? On a similar theme, you should always allow the people who will be using it to help decide which system to purchase or create.

  • Any other suggestions? Anything we missed in the list above? Leave a comment below or e-mail with your feedback.

Brian Ward is a Training Officer in the Career Development Division for the Gwinnett County Fire Department and the Vice-Chairman of the Metro Atlanta Training Officers. Brian currently serves as a State of Georgia Advocate for Everyone Goes Home and Courage to be Safe Trainer. He holds an Associates Degree of Fire Science and is pursuing his Bachelors with the University of Cincinnati. He is also the Founder of and organizer of Gwinnett County Leadership and Safety Conference. Brian can be contacted at

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