Firefighters to use simulators

Just as pilots learn to fly using flight simulators, firefighters will soon be able to train for emergency situations using similar software.

Officials at the National Institute of Standards and Technology are working with engineers and firefighter instructors to develop a virtual reality simulation. Firefighters will be able to practice their responses without being in danger.

"We want to let firefighters make mistakes when there are no dangerous consequences and train them to make real decisions at the same time," said Glen Forney, a computer scientist at NIST.

To build this physics-based computer fire simulator, NIST experts are reworking software, known as the Fire Dynamic Simulator, and the fire imaging program, known as Smokeview, to train firefighters. The current programs are mostly used by engineers in litigation to simulate fire accidents, Forney said.

Program refinements will let users change a simulation with the click of a mouse. Firefighters will learn the ramifications of actions such as opening a window, closing a door or focusing a hose spray in a certain direction.

The new software will be more like "the video games our children play," Forney said.

New features will also increase the system's ability to simulate the smoke, hot air and other gas flow caused by fire, wind and ventilation.

Overall, the simulations, which will take about three years to complete, should be "more realistic than ever," Forney said. "Rather than a scientist saying, 'Oh, these colors represent the amount of oxygen in the room,' a person on the street can now say, 'Oh, this is smoke, and it's thick.' It's less analytical now."

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