International wildfire simulation project

Published:  29 November, 2016

Work has recently begun in Europe on the development of a mobile incident command training system that aims to improve firefighters’ response to wildfires, writes Robert Stacey from Northumberland Fire and Rescue Service and the IGNIS project.

The key aim of the Initiative for Global Management of Big Fires through Simulation (IGNIS) is to improve the command and coordination of wildfire incidents through the development of simulation training for incident commanders.

A two-year project co-financed through the EU Civil Protection Financial Instrument, IGNIS brings together the knowledge and experience of emergency service partners from France, Italy, Portugal and the UK. All four partner organisations also currently deliver wildfire training: France’s National Training School for Firefighters/Entente pour la Forêt Méditerranéenne; The Italian National Fire Corps (CNVVF); The Portuguese National School for Firefighters (ENB); and Northumberland fire and rescue service in the UK.

The project partners will spend the next two years developing a cost-effective, mobile, and easily accessible simulation tool that can be used by all partner countries and across Europe.

The simulation tool will consist of a network of computers that will run advanced gaming-style software. This will present officers with a realistic virtual environment that is as close to real-life conditions as possible. Commanders receiving the training will see what they would see at a wildfire incident and will need to use their knowledge, skills and experience to gather and process information in order to make informed decisions on how to safely and effectively command the incident, their sector, or team.

To accompany the training tool, the partners will also be jointly developing a robust training and assessment framework as well as a number of training scenarios. The scenarios will be designed to test commanders’ abilities to safely and effectively respond to changes that may occur during the course of a wildfire incident, such as changes in rate and the direction of fire spread.

The end result will be a training package that improves and enhances the current training available in many EU countries, including the UK. By jointly developing a simulation tool that can be used across Europe, the IGNIS partners will also enhance the capability for cross-border training involving multiple EU countries, which in turn will help to improve the coordination and response to cross-border wildfire incidents.

Benefits of simulation training for wildfires

A key motivation for developing simulation training for wildfire incident command is that it offers significant benefits compared to traditional training, which usually relies on table-top exercises and large-scale field exercises, including:

•             Significant reduction in costs – large-scale field exercises are costly to arrange and implement and are unsuitable for training large numbers of personnel;

•             The simulation software can be run in real time, enabling training in both simple and complex wildfire scenarios;

•             Simulation tools provide a near endless range of different scenarios and provide instructors with the flexibility to change conditions during each scenario (for example, changing weather conditions such as wind direction), ensuring that incident commanders need to constantly review and adapt their tactics;

•             Simulation tools can record the actions taken by the incident commander and provide the necessary capability for reflection, assessment, and improvement of the training environment.

As Paul Hedley, Chief Fire Officer at Northumberland Fire and Rescue, notes: ‘Due to the risks involved, it is very difficult to provide realistic training for large wildfires, but with the IGNIS training resource we can provide our officers with the experience they need to confidently command and tackle large fires out in the open.’

Project timescales

February 2016 saw the first meeting of the IGNIS Project Partners in France. This took place during a meeting hosted by the lead partner Entente. The meeting was held at CESIR, the Euro-Mediterranean Centre for Risk Simulation.

The meeting included a full tour and demonstration of the new equipment and facilities that are provided at CESIR, including the state-of-the-art incident command simulator for wildfire training that will be used as a key foundation for developing the IGNIS simulation tool.

From May to September 2016, the IGNIS partners participated in three training workshops. The first workshop, held in Valabre, France, in May involved the development of the first draft exercise scripts for the large-scale incidents to be designed and used with the simulator.

Two further workshops were held in early September 2016, one in Rome and the other in Cramlington in Northumberland, UK. These were intensive week-long workshops that focused on the simulator software. The partners installed the software and then received training on how to use and design incident command scenarios.

The partners returned to Valabre at the end of September to practise the large-scale exercises on the simulator. The meeting aimed to provide the opportunity to hone and refine the exercises and enabled the partners to receive training on the incident command assessment tool that will be used in conjunction with the simulator to assess the performance and competence of the trainee incident commanders.

This workshop was held in conjunction with the first project advisory board meeting, whose members consist of experts in wildfires and/or incident command from Belgium, Croatia, Denmark, France, Portugal, Spain, Sweden and the UK. The members were invited to assess and critique the IGNIS project activities and outputs. Their remit is to provide an external verification process for the project activities, ensuring that the final outputs of the project are suitable not only for the four partner countries but also for other EU countries.

Elisabettha Bellocchi, policy officer at the EC's Directorate-General for Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection, which is co-financing the project, was one of the attendees.‘These projects are important for the ECHO Directorate as they create habits and collaborations that can find solutions to crises and provide the means to train skilled teams,’ she explained. ‘I found IGNIS very interesting and was impressed by the work and contributions of the delegates.’

 Looking ahead, the IGNIS partners will meet a number of times throughout the project to collaboratively work on key project tasks. National exercises will be organised and held within the project countries to trial, test and further improve the training being developed.

Following the first national exercise that took place in Portugal in November 2016, further exercises are scheduled for April 2017 in the UK and May 2017 in Italy.

The national exercise in Portugal was designed to provide opportunities for real-life incident commanders from around Portugal to train and be assessed on the system. It included a complex three-day simulation exercise based in Portugal, as well as a shorter exercise designed and based in France. Both exercises involved requests for assistance from another European nation and required the trainees to implement appropriate procedures for receiving, hosting, briefing and deploying crews from another country.

The exercise also included a dissemination day to promote the project to key stakeholders and the media. The national exercises that will take place in 2017 will follow a similar format but will focus on scenarios that have been developed by the other partner countries.

IGNIS will conclude with an international conference in Belgium in late 2017 at which the project partners will launch an online platform called the IGNIS Fire Simulation Resources Centre. The resources centre will be a key legacy of the project, providing an international reference resource on simulation training for wildfires. The resources centre will also facilitate ongoing networking and collaboration, to ensure the continual development and improvement of this innovative approach to wildfire incident command training.

If you would like further information visit the project website at or contact Robert Stacey, project officer, Northumberland FRS at


 Robert Stacey joined Northumberland Fire and Rescue Service in 2007 after training as an academic researcher and is currently project officer in the service’s Wildfire Team. He is responsible for developing wildfire policies and procedures and for the design, management, and delivery of local, national, and international wildfire projects. Stacey has managed NFRS’s contributions to a number of EU co-financed projects, including the European Forest Fire Networks Project (2010-2012), and was the coordinating author in the development of the European Glossary for Wildfires and Forest Fires (2012). Stacey is also project manager of the Northumberland Collaborative Burning Project, which aims to improve training for retained fire crews and reduce the risk of wildfires in Northumberland.


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