New firefighting training technology has everything including heat, hoses, smoke and the challenge of extinguishing flames except it's all virtual reality and appears by using goggles.

A Northland business has the first unit in the country for training firefighters in various scenarios without even getting outside the classroom door.

The new training technology, developed by a university academic, helps prepare firefighters for complex and unsafe scenarios which are difficult to reproduce using traditional training methods or are no longer possible due to environmental, community and regulatory constraints.

In addition to a virtual reality headset and breathing apparatus, the FLAIM system incorporates an industry-standard hose-line system and protective clothing which produces realistic heat generation, simulating the temperature increase that occurs as the firefighter approaches or fails to adequately control the fire.


Mike Lindsay, managing director of Building and Fire Services and health and safety consultant who has brought the unit to Northland, said the technology allows firefighters to experience unique scenarios which would otherwise be too dangerous or expensive to replicate.

"The costs of building training scenarios for fire and emergency services can become expensive in both financial and environmental terms.

"At the same time long-term exposure to potentially carcinogenic emissions from fires and foam retardants for firefighters and in particular trainers, increases the risks to their health.

"This virtual reality system was designed to accommodate the increasing need for training of new firefighters and has been adopted by firefighters in 15 countries around the world," he said.

Lindsay said training had been given to staff at Tauranga Airport recently. Because the technology was so mobile they could take it to various different businesses to train staff which included ports, service stations, and even super yacht crews.

According to the latest figures, there are around 1700 career firefighters and 11,000 volunteer firefighters in New Zealand and that is a market the Northland business would like to tap into.

Colin Thomson, Kamo Volunteer Fire Chief with more than 30 years' experience who is also a fire and safety systems trainer, said the new tool provides a close approximation to the experience of a range of dangerous fire scenarios.

"As risks of global warming and its effects on spawning scrub fires become more evident, new ways to train firefighters have been developed that are safer and more economical than conventional training techniques which involve exposure to the hazardous emissions of fires."


The system's hose-reel can replicate the jet reaction force of up to 700kpa/100psi of water pressure and that means if those at the end of the hose are not braced they could be knocked off their feet.

The virtual reality system provides an alternative to the use of toxic firefighting foam in training scenarios.

Residue from firefighting foam has been found ground water supply in sites around the world with research under way to better understand the impact of the substances' toxicity on human health.