Saving the Lives of Life Savers
NYU Researchers and Major Urban Fire Departments Partner to Create Scenario-Based Simulation Training for Nationwide Firefighters
In celebration of Fire Prevention Week from October 7 – 13, 2018, we highlight NYU Fire Research Group’s impact in supporting the firefighters who risk their lives for us daily.
This year, people across the U.S. watched as destructive wildfires raged across California, Oregon, and Washington, and as the thousands of firefighters poured in from all over the country to help contain these fast-moving fires.
Though battling these wildland fires bears its own set of challenges compared to residential fires, firefighters must always strategize and coordinate their efforts to effectively manage a fire from spreading — no matter the location — while also ensuring their own safety.
Yet, researchers at the Fire Research Group at NYU Tandon School of Engineering discovered that many fire departments lack the resources and budget to train their firefighters in the latest advanced firefighting methods emerging out of research centers and from scientific studies.
ALIVE (Advanced Learning through Integrated Visual Environments) is a decades-long effort to bridge the information gap between research and real-life firefighting. Developed by the Fire Research Group under the leadership of Dr. Sunil Kumar, ALIVE is an online, scenario-based simulation training program created by a team of NYU Tandon Mechanical Engineering faculty and scientists working to disseminate firefighting tactics and research-based information to urban and rural fire departments. It is funded by the Department of Homeland Security’s Assistance to Firefighters Grant (AFG).
Spearheaded by Dr. Prabodh Panindre, a Senior Research Scientist and Adjunct Mechanical Engineering Faculty at NYU Tandon, ALIVE’s interactive online modules train firefighters in diverse firefighting issues such as residential fires, wind-driven high-rise fires, firefighter health and safety, and fire scenarios. Its latest module — Wildland Fires — focuses on training firefighters to manage and coordinate their attack methods on wildfires.
Culling together research, expertise from multiple fire departments and experts, and insight from national organizations such as the Underwriters Laboratories (UL), National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the U.S. Forest Service, the modules provide firefighters, including part-time and volunteer firefighters, with life-saving and critical information on combating various types of fires.
The modules are engaging, adaptive, data-driven, and live — allowing departments to understand where more training is needed in specific areas. The online training teaches critical firefighting concepts, and lets users immediately apply what they’ve learned to realistic scenarios and quizzes. Even if you select the wrong answer, the program explains why an answer is or isn’t the most effective way to address a situation based on scientific research, reinforcing the best actions for firefighters when they’re out in the field.
Fighting Fire with Scientific Evidence-Based Learning
“When we first started the project, it was centered on training the FDNY on high-rise fires,” Panindre explains. After seeing the positive response, the team behind ALIVE spent three years researching its effectiveness on a national scale and discovered that firefighters retained more information using ALIVE’s online modules versus the traditional classroom training. “Now, more than 75,000 firefighters from all 50 states have gone through our training modules. More than 1,000 departments are incorporating these modules into their own training programs,” shares Panindre.
One such department is the Houston Fire Department, which has been an ALIVE partner for many years and incorporates the ALIVE modules into their classroom training.
Senior Captain Jeffery King of the Houston Fire Department (HFD), a partner with ALIVE and NYU Fire Research Group, knows the importance of disseminating advanced firefighting research to fellow firefighters, having lent his expertise to ALIVE’s module development for Residential Fires and Fire Scenarios. He shared that HFD’s continuing education program trained their whole department in August 2018 with the Fire Scenarios module, and currently all of its members are using the cardiovascular health module.
“In the last 15 to 20 years, we have learned more about the science of firefighting, a better understanding of how to do our job, and more about the physiological impact of firefighting – one of those being cardiovascular health,” King says. “The health and safety of each firefighter is paramount to a department’s success. Getting this information out to firefighters through the module is absolutely critical. NYU has done a phenomenal job of taking difficult information and putting it into a format that is easily understandable, deliverable to the people in the fire service, and in a means that can impact what’s going on every day in fire departments.”
“Around 50-60% of firefighters die of cardiac events,” Dr. Kumar explains. “Using scientific data and interviews, our module explains how cardiac arrest occurs, the impact of firefighting gear and hot environments upon their health, signs and symptoms, and how to prevent cardiac problems in fire service.”
Managing Destructive Wildfires
ALIVE is currently unveiling its new wildland fire module. Aimed to help first responders and initial incident attack commanders effectively manage wildland fires, the module addresses the unique challenges of wildland fires due to their erratic behavior, more difficult terrain, and dangerous environmental conditions. The NYU Fire Research Group partnered with the U.S. Forest Service (USFS), Los Angeles County Fire Dept. (LACoFD), California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire), and Barona Fire Department (BFD) in developing the module.
Nationwide wildland fire experts provided insight into the critical issues and training points, including Former Battalion Chief for Cal Fire Pete Scully. With over 33 years of active service battling wildfires, Scully tapped into his vast knowledge and own experiences to distill the best information into the module.
“I thought back to areas where I made mistakes, and my own first-hand experiences as a chief officer regarding how incidents were or weren’t properly managed,” he says. “Wildland fires can be very intimidating, and often when someone first arrives on the scene that isn’t experienced, they don’t take the time to manage and size up the big picture of the situation. Often, opportunities are missed. They might be focusing on where the most smoke or most flames are, but that’s not really where the most efficient use of resources is. This module is designed to get firefighters thinking about managing an incident properly and efficiently.”
Both Scully and Panindre agree that ALIVE’s modules are not meant to replace classroom training, but rather to supplement and complement training programs within a fire department, and help volunteer firefighters gain more training.
Emphasizing ALIVE’s accessibility, Panindre explained that “70% percent of the nation’s fire service are smaller, rural fire departments, yet they don’t have the budget or resources of larger departments like FDNY. We tried to focus on helping those firefighter departments who have few firefighters and resources, but want to increase their training. We make sure we can reach them through our modules.”
All ALIVE training modules are free for all firefighters and fire departments. Firefighters can access the free training modules on the Fire Research Group’s website, and through mobile applications. Fire departments interested in offering ALIVE training to their members can register by emailing the NYU Fire Research Group at firstname.lastname@example.org.