Fireground Training Goes Digital

By R. KIRK HANKINS

Training fire service personnel using live burns, practice drills, and classroom lectures has long been the standard for teaching safe and effective fireground operations. However, new media and interactive technologies are now earning a respected place in the fire service training world; these technologies have the advantage of being distributed at low or no cost over the Internet and offer members exciting new ways to train.

Virtual reality provides a realistic inside look at many types of scenarios. Video-on-demand enables peer-to-peer instruction across miles and even continents. Interactive online modules with progress tracking and completion reporting enables self-paced learning on a wide variety of topics, taken during free time and resulting in documented continuing education units (CEUs). Databases serve up volumes of information with just a few keystrokes.

Photo courtesy of the International Association of Arson Investigators.

These technologies come in formats both “hard,” such as in physical form (DVD, CD-ROM), and “soft,” such as by Web site. These multiple delivery technologies and distribution channels are coming together to create peer-to-peer fire service training opportunities that have never been available before.

Once a training piece is created, distribution is possible through many channels, and content can be tailored for each audience and distribution method. Multiple formats and distribution channels increase availability, improve learner engagement with the material, foster cooperation among departments, and leverage grant funding. When training is distributed properly, widely, and consistently, a department only has to log on to the Internet to take advantage of what has already been produced—no matter where that organization is or the time of day. Departments with limited budgets don’t have to create their own training—no traveling to the class, no time off from duty, and no budget strain.

One example of this training distributed by technology is a new online module/offline DVD combination product entitled, “The First Responder’s Role in Fire Investigation.” The International Association of Arson Investigators (IAAI) saw a need to create a training piece that spoke to all parties—fire service, police, EMS, and fire investigators—involved in recognizing and reporting firsthand fireground observations. After creating the core teaching content in cooperation with experts from each discipline, the IAAI chose a documentary format to take the viewer inside actual fire scenes with real fire, police, and EMS first responders to document, in their words and actions, how to observe, preserve, and communicate what they see, hear, smell, and touch during the response. Fire service peers discussed model behaviors like attack patterns that preserve evidence, overhaul tactical judgments that maintain scene integrity, scene access protocols that limit foot traffic, and firsthand observations of and reactions to the fire’s behavior. This reality-based method for presenting teaching content in an incident context allows the viewer to make the connection between the cognitive knowledge necessary for the task and the physical act of actually performing it. The video was shot on location with the Bensenville (IL) and Chicago (IL) Police and Fire Departments.

The core video content was then structured for delivery in two digital formats: an online interactive module on www.CFITrainer.Net®, which primarily reaches fire investigators (but is also freely available to all fire service members), and a DVD designed to be shown on demand at fire service, police, and EMS roll call and company meetings. The dual formats meet each target audience at any location and provide a delivery medium suitable to their needs and professional context. The site also offers CEUs and module completion certificates, which are important for fire investigators and other fire service members who must recertify or document continuing education credits for advancement of yearly goals. So, www.CFITrainer.Net® was a logical choice to distribute the content to its fire investigator target audience.

However, when training is delivered to the fire service, police, and EMS, it is often done in a group environment and without Internet access. As a result, the IAAI created a DVD version that could be played on a laptop or a standalone DVD player and thus could be shown at roll call, a company meeting, or in service. To foster group interaction and discussions on how to implement the video’s recommendations in a department, the DVD is supported with a written user’s guide and a written instructor’s/supervisor’s guide, the latter of which provides complete lesson plans for short- and long-format training sessions, a training session integrated with a live burn, and an ongoing reinforcement protocol. A quick reference card and a response data sheet are also included.

“The First Responder’s Role in Fire Investigation” will be introduced at FDIC 2011 at the IAAI and CFITRainer.net® booth. Conference attendees can preview the resource and see firsthand how these digital training opportunities are being distributed in multiple formats.

R. KIRK HANKINS, IAAI-CFI, MIFireE, is a former president of the International Association of Arson Investigators (IAAI) and a chair with the IAAI CFITrainer Steering Committee.

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