Flames of the future: How virtual reality is shaping Brazil’s fire service

April 11, 2024

Péricles Mattos, M.Sc., a master in defense and civil safety from Universidade Federal Fluminense, Brazil, discusses virtual reality and environmental, social and governance

We know that fires cause the most different reactions in people involved in the emergency.

There are those who run away, there are those who volunteer, but don’t know how to proceed when faced with a certain risk, and there are those who know how to proceed and start fighting fires until professionals in the field arrive and take over the firefighting operation.

In times of energy transition and the electrification of mobility, organizations and society around the world are facing a hitherto unknown challenge: fires in lithium-ion batteries.

In recent years, fires in electric vehicles have been making headlines and sparking discussions and research on how emergency response teams should combat this new type of threat, given the severe consequences that characterize this type of fire.

Fires in residential apartments, on the streets, in shopping malls and airport parking lots, in recycling facilities and even on ships, alert us to this challenge that requires combined solutions to be controlled.

At the same time, the climate is undergoing changes around the world, causing more severe and long-lasting droughts in several different countries such as Greece, Portugal, Brazil, Canada, causing forest fires with an urban interface, affecting homes and entire communities.

Faced with these new challenges caused by climate change and decarbonization of the economy, it is essential that as many people as possible are aware and prepared to face urban fires, caused by lithium-ion batteries that are in the most varied portable equipment and electrified vehicles, and forest fires that are coming closer and closer to communities.

But, how to prepare the population for this?

Live fire training is expensive to carry out, involves a huge number of professionals, uses a huge volume of water and suppressive agents, generating toxic waste and greenhouse gases, in addition to complex logistics to take many volunteers to training centers that are far from city centers due to environmental requirements.

So, what is the alternative?

Virtual reality

Five years ago, we began research in Brazil to adopt virtual reality for firefighting training for different categories of emergency professionals: military firefighters, industrial firefighters, aerodrome firefighters, volunteer firefighters and civil firefighters.

Petrobras, a Brazilian oil company, invested in virtual reality technology with the project “Simulator for Training Fire Brigades with Virtual Reality, using 360º immersive technology and wearables, with development of an Oil & Gas scenario and creation of the training methodology”.

We submitted approximately 94 professionals from different areas of the company, including offshore platform, refinery, thermoelectric and administrative operators, who used a virtual reality simulator composed of a hose with haptic force feedback, which simulates the pressure of the hydrant network, thermal vest which simulates radiant heat, autonomous breathing mask and air cylinder simulating the weight of the composite cylinder, giving a realistic level to the simulation.

Participants were predominantly men, with 88 male and 6 female participants.

The group’s age range was broad, spanning from 22 to 58 years.

Participants came from various professional backgrounds, including 28 occupational safety technicians, 30 operation technicians, and 23 professional civil firefighters.

Additionally, the study included 5 occupational nurses, 3 occupational safety engineers, 4 maintenance and instrumentation technicians, and 1 environmental technician.

The study saw a diverse range of fire brigade members, with experience ranging from 1 to 35 years, participated.

It revealed that a significant majority, 79.8%, receive annual firefighting training, and a substantial number have real-life fire experience, with 71.4% having been involved in actual fires.

When it comes to familiarity with digital technology, the results varied.

Only 34.4% of the participants rated their experience with digital games as good or very good, while a notable 51.6% had little experience.

More strikingly, 72.9% reported having little to no experience with virtual reality, indicating a potential learning curve for the integration of VR in their training.

Despite this lack of familiarity with VR, the participants displayed overwhelming confidence in the potential of immersive VR technologies to enhance firefighting training programs.

A staggering 95.7% believed that VR could have a significant, positive impact on training efficacy.

This optimism extended to their perception of the VR technology’s realism, with 97.9% rating the virtual scenarios as excellent or good.

Furthermore, the force feedback from the simulated squirt was also highly rated, with 82.3% deeming it excellent.

This suggests a high level of acceptance and perceived utility of VR in practical training scenarios.

The study highlighted the participants’ self-assessment of their readiness to handle real-life firefighting scenarios.

A reassuring 92.3% felt qualified to respond to a fire using hose lines.

This confidence, coupled with the high level of interest in VR technologies, suggests a promising avenue for incorporating advanced technological tools in firefighting training, potentially revolutionizing the way these essential skills are taught and refined.

In a recent evaluation conducted by the human resources management in collaboration with SESMT at Hospital do Círculo, Caxias do Sul, the participant responses to a questionnaire provided insightful feedback.

Of the 31 participants who engaged in the study, the majority expressed high satisfaction levels regarding their expectations being met.

Specifically, 80.65% rated their experience as excellent, 12.90% as very good, and 6.45% as good, culminating in a 100% approval rate.

When asked about acquiring knowledge beyond what they already possessed and the opportunity for knowledge exchange among participants, the responses were equally positive.

Out of the 31 respondents, 30 affirmed these aspects, indicating that the session was not only informative but also facilitated meaningful interaction and learning among the participants.

This feedback underscores a high approval rate of 96.77%, reflecting the effectiveness and value of the experience provided.


Scientific studies are advancing in large numbers with national and international academic efforts working together, demonstrating the use of virtual reality is a path of no return.

Greater engagement, motivation, repetition seeking continuous improvement, safely and sustainably, makes the adoption of virtual reality a precondition in the training of new emergency response employees.

Training more, training more safely, without associated logistical costs, supporting the continuous improvement of the professional, will allow the student to face the real simulation much more prepared and, consequently, the fires.

The demonstrations we followed in which more than 1,500 professionals with a wide range of firefighting skills, whether military, industrial, aerodrome, civilian and volunteer firefighters, had the opportunity to experience for the first time in Brazil the sensation of immersion in a firefighting simulator.

Virtual reality with wearables that create an immersive environment very close to reality, which consumed more than 60 thousand hours of research and development, allow us to say that there will be a technological disruption in the firefighting training segment in Brazil, digitally transforming the activity, for better training and qualification.

The cognitive improvement of the trainee, the sustainability of technology, the economy and decarbonization of the activity will be the pillars that will serve as the basis for the regulation and inclusion of virtual reality in the training of firefighters and brigade members in Brazil.

Currently in Brazil, steel, consumer goods, logistics and hospital companies are training their employees using virtual reality simulators, and acceptance and engagement are only increasing.

There are reports from employees who, after being subjected to virtual reality, faced fires that lasted 6 hours and reported how important it was to have undergone training in virtual reality to face that moment.

Point for virtual reality!

The environment is a global issue and controlling greenhouse gas emissions is the goal.

Thus, avoiding the burning of flammable liquids, the burning of pine wood, reducing the waste generated by the activity of simulated training with real fire, combined with better preparation for all professionals to protect the general population from the dangers of fires, will allow legislators the conditions for the massive adoption of virtual reality for the good of all societies.

Research data prove the efficiency of this training and qualification method.

This article was originally published in the April 2024 issue of Fire & Safety Journal Americas. To read your FREE digital copy, click here.

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