The Last Word on VR firefighter training with Ted O’Brien

July 5, 2024

Ted O’Brien, Director of Customer Experience, UK & Europe at FLAIM Systems, talks about the health, professional and environmental benefits of VR firefighter training

Can you provide a brief overview of FLAIM and its VR firefighter training solutions?

FLAIM is a business based in Melbourne, Australia.

It originated as a university project led by Dr James Mullins, a fourth-generation volunteer firefighter pursuing a PhD in robotics.

James combined his expertise in firefighting and robotics to develop FLAIM Systems Products.

These products include the FLAIM Extinguisher, which allows users to practice extinguishing fires in a virtual environment, and the FLAIM Trainer, designed for professional firefighters.

The FLAIM Trainer helps firefighters prepare for high-risk, low-frequency incidents, such as aircraft fires, running fuel fires, oil refinery fires, and ship fires below deck.

This training is conducted in a safe environment, eliminating the risk of injury and exposure to carcinogenic toxins found in real fires.

Additionally, virtual training reduces carbon emissions, making the sector safer and more environmentally friendly.

How does FLAIM address the specific challenges faced by the fire and safety industry?

Every Fire and Rescue Service, whether local authority, public, or private, has a document that goes by various titles but essentially serves as a risk profile for the incidents they may attend in their area of responsibility.

This could be a geographical area or a specific place like an airfield or a vessel.

These documents identify potential risks, and for each risk, there is usually a corresponding policy, procedure, and training regime to prepare firefighters for foreseeable events.

Many incidents are extremely difficult to replicate safely in real-world training.

With FLAIM, we can place firefighters in a virtual environment, such as an aircraft on fire, allowing them to practice the necessary skills to extinguish that fire, whilst also demonstrating compliance to policy and procedure.

This is something they cannot easily replicate in the real world without significant risk and high cost.

Can you discuss FLAIM’s operations in the Americas?

FLAIM has seen the most success in the three English-speaking nations: Australia, where the product originated, the US, and the UK.

In America, we have several team members in the field conducting demonstrations for potential clients, servicing existing clients, providing technical support, and delivering FLAIM Trainer training.

Our team in the Americas consists of around eight people, including former firefighters who now work under the FLAIM banner, as well as dedicated sales experts.

This team operates across both Canada and the United States.

What are FLAIM’s future plans and primary goals in the Americas fire and safety industry?

Recognising that fire departments and those responsible for ensuring effective fire training face immense pressures on their training budgets, FLAIM aims to provide cost-effective solutions.

Organisations must carefully consider their spending while also being mindful of environmental impacts.

We also see a generational shift where young people, having experienced immersive learning through Virtual Reality and AI in schools, colleges, and universities, expect similar methods in their professional training.

The fire sector, traditionally very conservative, needs to adapt to be seen as an innovative and attractive employer.

FLAIM can bridge this gap by integrating immersive learning and technology into dedicated fire training programmes.

In America, we are focusing on partnering with schools and colleges that offer fire programmes, embedding our equipment into their curricula.

We hope that as these students enter the workforce, employers will recognise the value of this training and incorporate it into their own organisations.

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

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