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Arpad Lepper, 55th Civil Engineer Squadron training chief, puts out a simulated C-17 aircraft fire March 8 while using a FLAIM Trainer simulator inside the fire department conference room on Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska. To help combat the firemen from inhaling harmful toxins during call, more fire departments are purchasing virtual reality equipment to provide a safer way to train their members. 

OFFUTT AIR FORCE BASE, Neb. -- Firefighters train weekly to maintain readiness, so when the call comes to put their lives at risk for the people they serve, they are prepared.

Whether in training or on a live fire, they are susceptible to various carcinogenic toxins - until now.

To help reduce the inhalation of toxins, more and more fire departments are purchasing virtual reality equipment to provide a safer way to train their members. Offutt Air Force Base is one of them.

The 55th Civil Engineer Squadron fire department recently used innovation funds to purchase a simulator that provides real world scenarios to enhance their skills without being in an unsafe environment.

“This trainer allows firefighters to fight fires in a virtual controlled environment that detects whether agent is applied correctly to extinguish fires,” said David Eblin, 55th CES installation fire chief. “The trainer mimics the heat a firefighter feels and presents a multitude of fire scenarios, to include building and aircraft fires.”

Not only is the simulator safer, but it is also more cost effective and easier to use.

Now firefighters do not have to load up their rigs with equipment, water, gas and wear heavy equipment when training. They are able to train in their training rooms without leaving the facility.

“With the cost of firefighter personal protective exceeding $3,000 and the high cost of specialized firefighting vehicles - $500,000 to $800,000 - this trainer saves wear and tear, fuel and operational costs on these high dollar assets as they are not used as often,” Eblin said.

The simulator consists of a head monitor display, nozzle and protective clothing.

The computer central processing unit is in the simulated firefighter air tank system that the individual places on their back. This simulated tank is much lighter than what the firefighters would normally wear during a call.

“Lightweight means less physical stress on our bodies,” said Carlos Ruffin, 55th CES firefighter driver operator. “Our vehicles, and equipment would also stay in-service, allowing for faster responses to real world emergencies that occur while we’re training.”

While the simulator allows skill sharpening in a safe environment, the department recognizes the authenticity of a real fire is the best way to learn.

“There’s no substitute for fighting real fires,” Ruffin said. “In order to do what we do, we have to know how fire is going to react when you introduce something new to that environment - water, foam, ventilation, etc. If you apply any of those examples in the wrong way, you could end up hurting yourself and others.”

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