Virtual Reality Preps CA Firefighters for the Real Thing

The Cosumnes Fire Department is one of the few departments in the world to use the immersive technology to train cadets on how to handle dangerous emergencies.

Training and preparation are keys the keys for firefighters keeping themselves and others safe when responding to dangerous emergencies. Fire departments continually try out new tools and techniques in controlled environments, so they're better able to know what to expect and how to react when they encounter those situations for real.

That's why a California department has started incorporating virtual reality technology into the training its cadets receive.

Decked out in full turnout gear, Cosumnes firefighter cadets now are provided with another piece of equipment: VR goggles, KCRA-TV reports.

“I only know of three departments in the world using this technology synchronized into their training,” Kirk McKinzie, the department's tech specialist, told the TV station, adding that the Houston Fire Department was the only other U.S. department he knew of that was using VR googles.

With the goggles, cadets can be introduced to a variety of fire situations, including potentially deadly flashovers, without introducing them to the risks until they're ready. And cadets are able to get a 360-degree view of that environment, too.

"Fire hasn’t changed," Battalion Chief Rick Clarke told KCRA. "Fire is an element. What has changed is the materials burning."

Another advantage of virtual reality training comes with what departments can learn about cadets. Trainers can guide firefighters through a blaze to see how their bodies respond and then apply that data to actual situations. 

"Where we're in the technology world is: How do we track our people? How do we protect them? How do we make sure that when they're at their fatigue levels that we can pull them out of the building, so we don't have people lost or people go down in the middle of smoke-related events?" Clarke told KCRA.

Although virtual reality is a new tool, the department should see dividends soon. The first class of cadets to train using VR goggles and live fire simulations will graduate in February, according to KCRA.

More in Tech & Comm