How virtual reality is saving time and money for Leicestershire Fire and Rescue Service

The pioneering department is teaching recruits using a virtual reality simulation of a fire situation before they are exposed to the heat of practical training.

Exposing firefighters to dangerous situations is a key part of their training for when they might encounter the stress and terror of a real fire.

However, one fire department has developed a way to help their trainees prepare for the training environment using virtual reality.

[Augmented Reality, Virtual Reality and Mixed Reality: What's the difference?]

Leicestershire Fire and Rescue Service and Rivr, a virtual reality company, have developed a detailed simulation which allows firefighters to train on site.

(This video contains some simulated trauma)

This saves the fire service money, Paul Speight, watch manager at the service, explained.

Instead of sending firefighters away to a training centre and having to get in cover, he said, the training can happen on site so if the bell goes, the firefighters can jump into action.

It also cuts down the costs of accommodation and travel if the training centres are located far away.

However, Speight is keen to stress that this “won’t replace" the real world training the firefighters receive, but instead will "supplement it brilliantly”.

It helps keep the trainees safe too, as they “can’t get burnt in virtual reality”, and it gives them a lasting impression of what they will encounter. By having the headset on and the rucksack containing the laptop on their backs, they can also experience time pressure too.

The simulations recreate popular arson sites in Leicester in exact detail, and some sections were filmed using as many as 166 cameras.

It is interactive so trainees are able to pick up items such as smoke alarms or lighters, and walk around the room and jump between storeys. They can also put items into evidence bags.

In the training session we tested, you were able to walk to the edge of a blown-out door and peer out to see an injured body in the alleyway below.

It's not the first time the service has used technology to train and educate. Two years ago, Leicestershire developed a 360-degree road safety film, the VF4-360, that it uses as a safety initiative to show what can happen in a car crash.

fire safety(Leicestershire Fire and Rescue Service)

The filming was done through a specialist 360 camera and two GoPros with fish-eye lens. It is watched on a Samsung S6 phone combined with a Gear VR headset. 

The film is taken into schools to show what can happen in the case of an accident and over 14,000 people saw it in 2017. It has received praise from the industry including the Innovation of the Year award in Excellence in Fire and Emergency Awards 2017.

[Read more: Virtual reality 'to replace high street shopping by 2050']

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