Wildfire Simulation Technology – Part 1

These days, with fire departments hampered by tight budgets, training (particularly large-scale exercises) may get cut in order to staff enough personnel. However, the effectiveness of computer-based simulations has begun to catch up with the...


These days, with fire departments hampered by tight budgets, training (particularly large-scale exercises) may get cut in order to staff enough personnel. However, the effectiveness of computer-based simulations has begun to catch up with the promise.

Departments no longer have to settle for a PowerPoint presentation that’s long on talk and short on action, as a number of commercial companies have ventured into the firefighter training field, even creating Personal Computer (PC) simulations that can help train firefighters to battle wildfires for substantially less money than has ever been possible before. In this first article in a new series on wildfire simulations, we take a closer look at a representative sample of commercial companies that offer affordable products that can provide realistic wildfire training to even the smallest fire departments.


Fire Studio

Digital Combustion, which makes Fire Studio, was started by two firefighters, Rich Merritt and Doug Prochnow 12 years ago. While working at the Costa Mesa Fire Department in California they saw a need for realistic fire simulation.

“Fire Studio is an All-Hazard emergency incident simulation production tool,” said Rich Merritt, president of Digital Combustion. “It is designed to allow you the freedom of creating custom scenarios that reflect possible emergency situations in your area.”

Operational efficiency coincides with effective training and the most effective training is that which is applicable to the department, according to Merritt. “Firefighters are routinely required to make decisions based solely on what they see and hear,” he said. “Fire Studio 5 [the latest version] provides all of the tools necessary to make simulations as true to real life as any simulation can be, while remaining affordable.”

And it can be customized by firefighters to fit specific scenarios, as well. “Fire Studio allows you to import your own photos or digital video to design scenarios personalized to your locality,” Merritt confirmed. “You can create All-Hazard emergency simulations based on buildings, target hazards, wildland urban interface, industrial facilities and aircraft – all from your area. Once you have imported your background images, you can add any combination of Fire Studio’s provided fire, smoke, explosions, hazmat elements, sounds and more.”

You can add a smoke column and then change the size, color, angle, speed and density in real time and the latest version includes exclusive video elements (i.e. victims, firefighters, moving flags etc.) that can be added into any simulation for an even higher level of realism. This allows trainers to have all the tools necessary to create a complete emergency incident for simulation exercises or classroom presentations.

“Damage can be added to your background images as the fire progresses, with black charring increasing on both vegetation and structures over time, which works well in wildfire simulations,” Merritt pointed out. “The ability to use a virtual camera to pan and zoom across your scene even allows you to show a moving camera view from an approaching unit.”

And with the real-time clock, the pressure is on! “When building your scenarios, you have complete control over how those simulations will be played,” Merritt added. “You are able to create a timed simulation that will progress based on specific timeframes, or let the instructor have complete control, determining when and where the fire will spread, and when it will be extinguished. Navigation can also be placed in the control of the student by using onscreen navigation icons.”

Viewing can be partitioned as well, showing different members of a crew different views of an incident. “Users who need a higher level of sophistication in their training exercises have chosen to use CommLink, our network control module,” explained Merritt. “CommLink allows you to remotely control multiple copies of Fire Studio over a network. Instead of participants all viewing the same scene, the instructor can assign them into different command positions and have them view the incident from their angle or perspective at the scene. As an example, these views could show different locations of a large wildfire incident.”

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