Raleigh FD turning to virtual reality in efforts to enhance training

RALEIGH, NC (WTVD) -- In a move officials say enhances training and saves money, the Raleigh Fire Department is investing in virtual reality and other emerging technologies.

On Wednesday, they gave ABC11 a demonstration of those tools in action at the Keeter Training Center in Raleigh.

"It gets our recruits into an immersive environment, which most of them grew up playing video games. I grew up playing video games. So when you make education fun, you typically retain it better," said Jeffrey Stallings, the EMS Coordinator with the Raleigh Fire Department.

The training materials are a far cry from what Stallings learned on, beginning as a volunteer firefighter when he was just 13.

"It feels like you're in there. They say two to three minutes in a virtual reality and you forget that you're in there. And that's what we're going for," said Stallings.

Recruits can pinpoint portions of the body to dissect - ranging from the brain to the pancreas. They can also maneuver their body to see different angles of the organ, allowing them to experience diagnosing injuries from a variety of vantage points.

"They were able to identify this now disease process or condition with what the patient called 911 for, and it was a big eye-opener," Stallings said.

Officials explained the technology is also far more cost-effective than traditional training methods. The current Virtual Reality set-up costs just north of $2,000, compared to $30,000-$50,000 for CPR mannequins, skeletons, and other associated equipment.

Now, they're exploring the possibility of upgrading their VR abilities, to create more lifelike scenarios. The upgrade would cost between $10,000 and $13,000.

In another classroom, recruits are trained on working with a fire truck. Using a computer, an instructor can create simulations and track a trainees decision-making abilities on the equipment.

"Previous process involved using an actual truck, stretching hoses, dispersing water to different places. So having this unit actually saves a lot of water, a lot of fuel, wear and tear on our apparatus," explained Capt. Jake Corker.

The simulations also allow for equipment malfunctions, which tests problem-solving skills.

It costs about $60,000, about 1/10 the cost of a fire truck.

Corker adds the software can speed up the training process by hours.

Recruits spend seven months training, with a focus on EMS for about two-and-a-half months.

Much of the technology has been purchased within the past year. While the department has made several advancements, recruits still take part in more traditional methods and practices as well.
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