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ALTUS AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. — For firefighters, proper training can mean the difference between life and death. Since the equipment firefighters train with is expensive to operate, certain training practices are inefficient or even impossible to complete.
That is why the 97th Air Mobility Wing Fire Department has been hard at work acquiring equipment which allows them to train in simulated conditions.
The first simulator they received was a FLAIM fire simulator, which utilizes virtual reality in order to train firefighters on proper firehose tactics in a variety of scenarios.
On November 27, 2018, the 97 AMW Fire Department unveiled their newest simulator.
“We provided the 97th Air Mobility Wing with a pump operations training simulator,” said Phil Duczyminski, a subject matter specialist for FAAC, a firefighting simulation company. “It allows a student to make mistakes and understand what they did wrong without destroying the equipment.”
That damage to the equipment is a big selling point for the simulators as well.
“If you were to take a student out on a regular fire engine pumper and go through all the training procedures, you would end up with a lot of damage and wear on a pretty expensive vehicle,” said Duczyminski. “You waste thousands of gallons of water as well. You can pause them when they mess up on a simulator and reset them, and make sure they understand where they went wrong.”
The pump operator on a fire engine controls the water pressure traveling through the firehose. With fluctuating water pressure, this can be a complicated process.
“You don’t set water pressure and man the pumps and walk away,” said Philip Fourroux, Chief of the Altus AFB Fire Department. “When you use the pumps, you’re putting the other firefighter’s lives into your hands. It’s an important thing to be able to practice.”
Another aspect of simulators that stands out is how they allow people to train at any time, regardless of weather.
“Sometimes training requires perfect weather,” said Duczyminsk. “Even if it doesn’t, it’s hard to get guys outside and learning when it’s freezing outside. With simulators, you can work on learning stuff inside and don’t have to care about what the weather is like.”
This does not mean that firefighters will not train physically, outside of a simulated environment; it is a means to enhance readiness using both methods.
“The intent of these simulators is to create a safe way to learn and to then transfer that knowledge into the real world,” said Duczyminsk. “It’s not going to teach you everything you need to know but that’s okay. It’s a starting point and creates room for improvement.”
The 97th AMW Fire Department is not stopping at two simulators either; there is one more on the way.
“Our last simulator coming is a firetruck driving simulator,” said Fourroux. “Most young people who join the military haven’t driven a car for more than a few years, and now we’re asking them to drive a massive firetruck. Now we can put them in a simulator and have them learn how to drive [the fire truck] until we know they’re proficient.”
With a changing world of technology and innovation, it is only natural to reflect those advances in our training.
“Everything is changing and technology is out there that can make us better so there’s no use in hiding from it,” said Fourroux. “Pilots do most of their training on simulators so why can’t we do the same thing with firefighters?”
With training as the primary mission of the 97th AMW, increasing the capability at the Fire Department with high-end technology enables the Airmen to innovatively face modern challenges.