Where There's No Smoke, There's Learning

By Randy McIlwain
|  Thursday, Jan 20, 2011  |  Updated 6:00 PM CDT
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A study in <a title=Collin County shows departments that use a virtual simulator make better decisions when managing real fire emergencies." />

Randy McIlwain, NBCDFW.com

A study in Collin County shows departments that use a virtual simulator make better decisions when managing real fire emergencies.

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Firefighters in Allen are turning to video game technology, in the form of a computer simulator, to help them learn the best way to do their job.

"We like to put people in there as if it is a laboratory and find out the best way to do things," said Allen Fire Division Chief Jon Boyd.

The simulator is not unlike a video game, it uses the same controller as an X-Box gaming system, allowing multiple firefighters to train simultaneously on everything from a grass fire with swirling winds, to a multi-story building with mass rescues.

"It's safe, if there's any problems you can just turn the computer off and walk away," said Allen Fire Department Assistant Chief Kurt Hall.
 
It also means when temperatures are freezing, like they are now, or during those sweltering North Texas summers, firefighters can stay sharp mentally by training and improving their decision making process.

"The training isn't going to help you do the physical job of a firefighter," said Allen Fire Battalion Chief Don Bailey. "It's going to help you on the decision making, it's going to help you on the communications, the incident management."
 
It also will allow firefighters to make a mistake and learn from it as opposed to real physical training that often ends with firefighters getting hurt.
 
McKinney and Plano fire departments are in the process of purchasing their own simulator systems after training on Allen's sytem.  

Experts say they have documented proof that firefighters utilizing the simulator make better decisions in emergencies than those who haven’t because they've had the opportunity to practice problem solving.

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