From the rear of the trailer, Stephen Mattax of the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry – Forestry Service can direct the scenario a firefighter sees in the Wildland Fire Simulator. Photo by Grant Gibson
While there were no actual fires lit for the firefighters in the simulator, the firefighters did get a chance to experience some of the things that might happen at a wildland fire.
“We’re simulating communications and applying the incident command system,” Stephen Mattax of the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry said.
“It gives them some practice on something they’re trained in,” Mattax added.
Six fire departments from the surrounding area — Alva, Capron, Carmen, Dacoma, Greenleaf and Waynoka — took part in the simulator Thursday, Friday and Saturday.
In order to enhance classroom training on wildland fires, the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry sends a semi truck and trailer out around the state on 15 trips a year to provide additional training for fire departments in various counties.
“We basically sit somebody down in the hot seat with a hard-wired radio,” Mattax said.
The “hot seat” where the incident commander sits is in the center of the semi trailer, and all of the equipment that drives the simulation is in the back end of the trailer.
“On wildland fires, almost all communication is done by radio,” Mattax said.
Two DVD players, two laserdisc players, a dedicated computer system and a concentrator to control the microphones control what the incident commander and observers see and hear in the front 3/4 of the trailer.
A separate computer is also in use for the classroom training segment of the simulator.
“The incidents we use are all wildland fire,” Mattax said, “but the incident command system can be used for any emergency response. The skills they learn in here are the same skills they’ll need for other responses.”
Currently, they have four wildland fire scenarios, but Mattax said they are working on more. The crews only go through one scenario, which takes about an hour and a half to complete.
Generally, there is one incident commander and ideally — because of space limitations — up to five or six others observing.
Mattax noted that the incident command system is also the same system in use by Homeland Security.
By familiarizing themselves with the incident command system in a simulator, firefighters are more easily able to manage their resources and equipment in the field.
“Most of us have had classroom training on it,” Alva Assistant Fire Chief and Training Officer Alan Schwerdtfeger said. “It helps you manage the resources you’ve got,”
Also, they do away with the 10-codes on the radio to speed up communications.
“They just use plain language so everybody understands what’s going on,” Schwerdtfeger said.
Those controlling the Wildland Fire Simulator also can change conditions that the incident commander sees on the fly. Anything from wind conditions to weather conditions can be modified.
“You learn little techniques that help you,” Schwerdtfeger said. “Kind of sharpens your skills on it. Makes it interesting to see how you can react.”