Virtual preparation for ARFF emergencies

Published:  01 October, 2008

Former Dutch fire officer and emergency management instructor Marco van Wijngaarden is president of ETC Simulation, a branch of ETC that developed the well-known  ADMS (Advanced Disaster Management Simulator).

ADMS was initially developed in response to the Manchester airport disaster in 1985 in which 55 people died. The incident evaluation led to new insights and recommendations for preparing and training for such disasters that require coordination of on and off airport emergency responders. A command and control training need was identified for exercising realistic scenarios.


ETC developed an incident command simulator for aircraft crash rescue, and consequently the first ADMS was produced for the Royal Air Force in Manston in Kent (UK).  “Over the years the software has been expanded to its current shape, and one of our biggest clients in the UK is the SERCO International Fire Training Centre in Teesside,” says van Wijngaarden.


Due to later restrictions on use of foam and live fire training in airports, the ADMS team members had to put their heads together and the concept for an ARFF simulator was born. ADMS-ARFF is a compact simulator that enables students to exercise aircraft rescue fire training in a safe environment.


Students train from a sim cab that features a steering wheel and all the monitor controls of the crash tender, and the students’ personal perspective – airport plus scene of the incident – is represented as out-of-the-window view on a screen.


There are several versions of ETC and the simplest comprises a desktop computer with a console and a steering wheel, an approach that resembles serious gaming. Van Wijngaarden emphasises that there is one great difference between simulation and serious gaming. Whereas serious gaming aims for scores and a measurement of performance, simulation aims to teach how to approach situations – and an instructor analyses and reviews performance.


ADMS’s most advanced system configuration  involves a cabin built to resemble a crash tender cab, in which all the controls are in the same place as the real version.


The simulator’s scenario-generator allows the instructor to create scenarios, and options include type of aircraft, incident, fire, weather, number of passengers, initial injuries sustained, and many other factors. After all the elements have been incorporated, the student can respond to the incident with the joystick and controls. “You can even choose to respond with multiple vehicles, so that the whole response team and the incident commander are involved. Individual team members are all positioned at interconnected stations. I think we are unique in being able to offer this, because it also allows us to deliver realistic interactive multidisciplinary team training,” says van Wijngaarden.


Participants are required to use the communication means they would use in their real job, for instance mobile radios. Van Wijngaarden sees this as an elementary aspect of successful exercising, “We are completely unique in that we have implemented advanced real-world physics in our simulators.


“For instance, when ADMS simulates a running fuel fire, we have programmed the scientific formula for the fire to be extinguished in relation to the amount of foam that has been applied, so if a student doesn’t extinguish the fire correctly, it doesn’t go out – and even flares up. Additionally, the simulation includes virtual responders with artificial intelligence who, on their own, can carry out complex tasks based on a commander’s decisions.”


The only thing the instructor needs to do with the ARFF simulator is to put together or call up a scenario, and push start. The instructor can still intervene in the scenario, by making the situation better or worse. He can pause the process to give advice to students.


When a student decides for instance, that he doesn’t need to extinguish a side of an aircraft, the consequence could be that more people die. Van Wijngaarden adds that this can sometimes have a strong impact on a participant’s state of mind. “I have personally witnessed people getting very emotional, and it turned out that they had gone through a similar scenario a week before. The levels of immersion in ADMS are extremely high. The simulator experience blends in with previous live experiences filled in by your brain.

 It makes you believe you are there on the hot seat. When I exercise on the ARFF simulator myself, on occasion I can even ‘smell’ the foam.”


Van Wijngaarden concludes by saying that because ADMS leaves room for mistakes, students can learn from these very quickly. In one instance the ETC team let loose an office manager on the ARFF simulator without any form of knowledge of basic ARFF.


“We didn’t give him a shred of information, but after training several scenarios on the ARFF simulator, he found out what the best way was to extinguish these fires and how to approach the incident.


“Some people couldn’t believe he wasn’t a trained firefighter, and that is the beauty of the experimental learning experience that ADMS offers."

  • Operation Florian

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