Article Archive
Fire Without Flames
Virtual reality applied to emergency training
Volume 24, No. 4

Virtual reality and computer-based simulations have been around in one form or another for decades. However, a person sitting at a computer with typical computer skills creating a customized scenario with various training options for fire officers and firefighters has been a bit of a pipedream -- until recently that is.

Luckily, some folks from the world of computer-based training and simulations saw the applications for such training in the fire service. They set out to design something that a fire instructor at a fire house computer could use to take digital photographs and digital video of the buildings and other target hazards in their jurisdiction and adapt them for training simulations. One such product is called CommandSim.

CommandSim is not actually a computer program but a "Flash extension," as the computer techs call it. That means it runs within a program called Macromedia Flash. With both Macromedia Flash and CommandSim installed on the computer, the fun (and the learning) begins!

CommandSim allows a computer user with average computer skills to add smoke, fire, chemical vapor clouds, explosion effects, lightening, etc., to digital photos and video as animations within the "Flash environment." Animations can be manipulated to show fire growth, changes in weather conditions and incident growth and expansion.

CommandSim allows a fire instructor to:

  • Model smoke, fire, vapor clouds and other realistic effects (using photos and videos of target hazards) to simulate an expanding and dynamic emergency scene.
  • Dynamic incident scenes can change over time in both good and bad ways from a command and control perspective.
  • Scenes can be played back to any computer and will even work over networks and the Internet for multiple site training
  • Paste animations and scenes into PowerPoint slides and publish them to the web.
  • Make scrolling panoramas and 360 degree views.

CommandSim creates multiple views of the same incident that allow fire cfficers and firefighters to do 360 walk arounds of the incident just like they would do in real situations. With some creativity, it is possible to set up a multiple company exercise such as one that was conducted at the 2007 IFW Emergency Responder Conference.

In that unified command exercise, a fire occurred on a large ship at the city's port. There were reports of crewmembers trapped and injured as well as complex fire conditions.

The scenario was developed in concert with the municipal fire departments, industrial and marine freighting experts and the U.S. Coast Guard. Using photos taken by the author from various points both on the vessel as well as on shore, the staff at CommandSim built a simulation for use in a full day workshop that took place as a part of a longer multiple day marine fire fighting workshop. The final day of the workshop was a real world live exercise with multiple responders from the local area simulating the response to the same incident used in the CommandSim simulations the previous day. Emphasis of the exercise was on the needs of a unified command structured approach in response to these complex shore side marine incidents.

Six photos at left are captured off the fully animated CommandSim simulation, which can be viewed at

The value and utility of CommandSim is best seen in its intended motion effects, so visit the CommandSim Web site to view this exercise and others in their Gallery.

Fire & Safety Specialists Inc. president David White vows that if I can use it, anyone can.

"He uses it in simulations for incident command, tank and ethanol fire fighting strategy training," White said.

The utility of this powerful tool is limited by the imagination of the fire instructor and his desire to use CommandSim to build realistic and affordable fire and emergency simulations for his department.

Contact CommandSim at or at (888) 511-2452 or (215) 627-8146. Send e-mail to


P: (979) 690-7559
F: (979) 690-7562

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