FLAIM Trainer® virtual reality training demonstration

 

Ian Dunbar, Head of Curriculum, Fire Service College reports on the recent demonstration at the College of the virtual reality FLAIM Training System.

I spent last week immersed in virtual reality using FLAIM Training System here at the Fire Service College. The system has a wide range of scenarios currently available with more to come and provides haptic (branch) and thermal (heat vest) feedback to the wearer.

The feedback over the two days of demonstration was unequivocally positive with each delegate seeing the financial, practical, environmental and educational advantages as part of a blended learning approach; something we believe in very passionately at the College. In the room, there was no doubt about the viability of the system in a modern fire and rescue service. Some reactions on social media however, were less favourable. Many quoted 'it cannot replace the real thing'. Well they are right; it isn't designed to. The aim for the system is to blend it into already well-established training delivery principles.

Others said 'it's not like being in a real building/aircraft/incident' Again they are correct. The clue really is in the title: VIRTUAL reality. For those who posted negative comments the dictionary definition of virtual is "almost or nearly as described, but not completely or according to strict definition"

Some even questioned the calculation which determined the haptic feedback of the branch (the branch provides feedback to closely mimic jet reaction) which is really missing the point entirely.

When I heard about the FLAIM Training System a number of months ago my first thought was not to question it's relevance or it's educational efficacy; it was to get my hands on it. This week I had the opportunity.

 Why FLAIM?

Well, there are a number of reasons. Firstly, economy. The system allows the acquisition and maintenance of skills such as branch technique, gas cooling, door entry, search protocols etc and this can be done in a classroom with other delegates watching (and learning) your progress on a screen. It can be reset for the next learner with the click of a mouse with the only delay being in donning the realistic BA set and thermal vest (which heats up as you get closer to the room of origin and seat of fire) which takes about one minute.

Next is reducing exposure. Carbonaceous burning and its products have consequences on BA wearers and more importantly, instructors routinely exposed by virtue of their role. FLAIM reduces this burden of exposure. Reducing the number of burns also protects the environment and keeps your neighbours happy.

It is portable. Making it ideal for taking on the road to deliver peripatetic sessions. My thoughts instantly turned to On Call personnel. The system can be set up in about ten minutes and once calibrated, can be utilised on a training evening. It has the potential to record sessions (video) so they can be saved and subsequently audited.

Finally (and away from core training application) my thoughts turned to recruitment, taster days and to community engagement: applications where technological innovation would add tremendous value.

Conclusion

This week has really opened my eyes to how such technology can provide an enhanced educational experience as part of a blended approach. Technology by design, will always be 'in development' and by definition, this kind of innovation will thankfully never be the finished article. Plans are already underway to develop the system and broaden its application, yet already it has wide appeal for fire and rescue services, aviation firefighting and industrial fire departments. The Fire Service College will be the first adopters of this technology in the UK.

If you want to know more about FLAIM, feel free to contact me at the Fire Service College and we can arrange a demonstration.

idunbar@fireservicecollege.ac.uk

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