Interactive training methodology by NYU-Poly, FDNY, CFD, and BFD

Research projects conducted in the United States and around the world have made substantial progress in the development of technologies and tactics that hold the potential to improve firefighter safety, and reduce injuries and fatalities among firefighters and civilians. The practice of firefighting has not kept pace, however, and the gap between science-based interventions and widespread practice remains large. One contributing factor is that much of the research on state-of-the-art firefighting tactics never makes it beyond the pages of peer-reviewed journals. To save lives and to prevent injuries to firefighters, the fire service needs information and knowledge about effective interventions. More importantly, fire officials need methods for effective and continual dissemination and training within their own organizations. The scientific language and protocols developed through any original research must be translated into everyday terms for use by firefighting practitioners, and materials must be developed to help the fire departments in adopting and implementing the interventions.

Current traditional dissemination and training methods suffer from a variety of drawbacks and do not prepare firefighters for the increasing number of challenges posed by modern fires and major disaster work. In many cases, firefighter training is accomplished through asynchronous perusal of printed or electronic materials, synchronous face-to-face or webcast attendance of lectures, or combinations thereof, followed by hands-on exercises and participant assessment to measure the transfer of knowledge or development of skills. Effective training for practice purposes requires a mix of three essential elements: didactic presentation of information, skills demonstration, and an opportunity for skills mastery. Traditional dissemination and training methods may not meet the latter requirements, lack the ability to provide detailed qualitative and quantitative analysis that can be used to assess the impact of training on firefighter knowledge and readiness to face high-stress situations, and fail to offer direction for future improvements in training. Asking firefighters to simply read or watch prepared material has a low impact on retention and performance. Lectures require a time commitment from firefighters and their departments, and also require the availability of trained instructors, an infrastructure to coordinate training, and a culture of continuous education. Augmenting these methods with simulated fire training requires significant resources and personnel, and virtual reality training methods remain cost-prohibitive. Most fire departments in this country cannot afford the above methodologies, except perhaps the first one: dispensing materials. Hypothetically, if a new intervention is considered important enough that a team is assembled to lecture and demonstrate at fire departments across the U.S., and if this team can train two departments per week, then less than 1% of the fire departments in the country can be reached in one year. In addition, the quality and consistency of the information being delivered nationwide remains questionable.

With support from the Assistance to Firefighters Grant Program (AFG), NYU-Poly teamed up with the Fire Department of New York (FDNY), the Chicago Fire Department (CFD), the Bloomington Fire Department (BFD), the Eagan Fire Department (EFD), and the Eden Prairie Fire Department (EPFD) to develop a web-based, interactive firefighter training program - ALIVE (Advanced Learning through Integrated Visual Environments). ALIVE simulates critical decision-making aspects of firefighting for career / volunteer firefighters and reinforces firefighting safety concepts developed by leading industry researchers though interactive tactical scenarios.