Saturday, March 29, 2008

Fire simulator training in Prescott, AZ

Fire simulators can provide a very valuable opportunity to test and improve your firefighting skills. On the Cleveland National Forest we used to use four overhead projectors to produce images of the landscape, smoke, and fire on a rear projection screen, two 4-track reel-to-reel tape recorders and a mixing board for sound effects, and up to 10 people to run the simulation and act as role players. I have not seen the new computer-based simulator that is being used this year, but I hope it is at least as realistic as the earlier systems.

The Daily Courier in Prescot, AZ has a story about firefighters going through an exercise using a simulator and sand table. Here is an excerpt:
"Well aware that numerous agencies often come together suddenly to battle dangerous wildfires, Prescott-area agencies gather each year to brush up their skills before the traditional wildfire season begins.

"We're testing ourselves to a level we've never tested before," Prescott Fire Chief Darrel Willis said as he surveyed more than 50 people in the incident command center room alone. "Look at all the agencies here. There's a comfort level when you see people you know. We know what we can expect from those people."

Such training can save the lives of firefighters as well as citizens who live in wildfire-prone areas of the Prescott region.

"Communications are always going to be difficult," Bentley said, so training helps immensely with smoothing out radio compatibility issues. Firefighters also learned some lessons about setting up an incident command system quickly so the span of control is clear, he said.

The sand tables are literally that - wooden tables covered with sand that firefighters mold to mimic the actual fire terrain. They add miniature trees, homes and fire trucks to the scene. They move red strings and cotton balls forward to represent an advancing wall of fire.

The Forest Service started making its computer simulator widely available just this year, Bentley said.

Fire instructors input U.S. Geological Survey computerized topographical maps into the simulator, then add as many as 20 types of homes along with local vegetation, roads, streams and even propane tanks."
Photo courtesy of The Daily Courier, Les Stukenberg "Firefighters from a variety of agencies look over a sand table model to plan their next action steps for the 1,200 acre fire they were responding to as part of the annual Basin Drill at the Prescott Fire Center."

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