ALTUS AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. --
Virtual reality is a relatively new medium that has allowed for major innovation in the entertainment industry and is now providing potential lifesaving training for the base Fire Department.
The Altus AFB Fire Department is utilizing virtual reality technology with a new tool for training: a FLAIM fire simulator and the 97th AMW is the first installation in the Air Force to use this technology.
“The FLAIM is a simulator kit that creates a realistic training scenario for firefighters,” said Juan Arguelles, the business development and program manager for Darley Defense. “It uses cutting-edge technology to help training get as accurate as possible.”
According to Darley Defense, the company responsible for distribution of FLAIM simulators, the Department of Defense has been looking at the technology for the past few months. As of November 1, 2018, the 97th AMW is the first Air Force Base to request and begin training with the equipment.
“We’ve received a lot of DoD traffic,” said Arguelles. “A lot of people from the DoD have been looking and waiting and trying to get their hands on the full version of this. Altus AFB is the first Air Force Base to get the full package.”
The “full package” consists of multiple parts with the intent to make training as realistic as possible for firefighters.
A virtual reality headset is worn by the firefighters, which places them in the scenario. A vest is worn that heats up based on how close to the wearer is to the fire in the simulation.
A respirator is also worn that can monitor oxygen intake and how much of an oxygen tank is used.
The last part of the simulator is a fire hose. In addition to looking and feeling like an actual fire hose, This component is synchronized to the simulation which adds to the realism, creating resistance when spraying water to simulate the real life forces.
“It really pulls back on you,” said Christopher Sleeper, assistant chief of training for the 97th Civil Engineer Squadron Fire Department. “The vest also gets pretty hot and it feels pretty real.”
The training offered by the virtual reality equipment is to mirror real-world scenarios firefighters may encounter on the job.
“This is excellent equipment that we can use in the future,” said Airman Dalton Neff, a firefighter assigned to the 97th Civil Engineer Squadron. “It’s been tested so much in the video game industry and every kink is worked out. It will keep us out of immediate danger, while teaching us to fight fires.”
According to psychologist Malcolm Bradwell, it takes at least 10,000 hours of practice in order for an individual to become exceptionally proficient at a task. With this simulator, the 97th CES Fire Department can practice with no additional cost or risk of injury, while providing a variety of scenarios including kitchen fires, aircraft fires, gasoline fires and more.
The simulator also offers a safer and more cost effective alternative to traditional training methods.
“To make a training scenario traditionally costs time and money in order to make sure everything burns just right,” said Arguelles. “You can do all of that in 20 minutes for free with a simulator. One of the biggest issues in the firefighter community is when firefighters breathe in carcinogens and get cancer many years later. That’s not a risk with a simulator.”
During the first few days with the equipment, both veterans of firefighting and new airmen at the station had the opportunity to try the equipment. The feedback was unanimous.
“This is going to help us be better,” said Neff. “It helps learn the basics or to touch up old skills. It gives us a chance to never stop learning, even when we aren’t out there fighting fires or training together.”
Some look at virtual reality as a toy or just an accessory to a video game but in the right hands, it can become a valuable tool.
This new equipment is the next step forward in training innovation and is a step toward providing lifelong training for Airmen. This new equipment serves as evidence that the 97th AMW remains committed to leading Airmen on a lifetime of education.