Smoke Reading in Virtual Reality: Q-and-A with Subject Matter Expert Paul Costello


Upon the release of the all-new training activity, Smoke Reading in Virtual Reality, TargetSolutions subject matter expert, Paul Costello, discusses the creation and value of this fire department VR training.

TargetSolutions works to provide fire agencies innovative solutions for streamlining training and operations management. Through the collaboration with Pasco County Fire Rescue and TargetSolutions’ parent company, Vector Solutions, developed an all-new virtual reality training activity for firefighters: Smoke Reading in Virtual Reality.

Shot in downtown Dade City, Florida, this activity utilizes a 360-degree camera to capture all aspects of smoke reading and response to a two-story building fire. TargetSolutions subject matter expert, Paul Costello, discusses the value of this brand-new activity and provides insight into its creation and new training innovations on the horizon.

Q: Can you describe this new VR fire training activity? What was the production process like?

TargetSolutions subject matter expert, Paul Costello, serves as a training officer with Hillsborough County Fire Rescue (FL.) and is a veteran paramedic, firefighter and fire service instructor.

A: We filmed with a neighboring fire department, Pasco County Fire Rescue, and closed a city block to demonstrate smoke reading and response for a two-story building fire. Smoke reading techniques have been around for a while but this activity brings this training to the masses with unfettered access to it to get it right. So when firefighters arrive on scene, see high volumes of smoke, it tells them what they’re going into – what tactics to use, resources needed, whether to attack or go on the defensive. This VR activity allows you to get in, test the environment and start working on core concepts before going into an immediate dangerous to life or health (IDLH) environment.

Q: What are the benefits of the Smoke Reading in Virtual Reality activity?

A: When you’re on the fireground, training is very encompassing and issues with manpower, budget restraints and safety concerns make training like this, for smoke reading, out of the question. Smoke Reading in Virtual Reality lets firefighters immerse themselves in an IDLH event without the physical exertion and cardiac and carcinogenic risks and build some degree of pre-recognition to fall back on when decision-making.

Q: How do you think fire departments can leverage VR technology for training?

A: Virtual reality training isn’t going to replace taking firefighters to perform flashover simulations. However, VR training gives fire departments an arsenal of training they haven’t had before. Firefighters can take VR training again and again to build recognition prime decision making and build muscle memory – making the difference between ‘should I do this’ and ‘this is what I should do’. This information will seat much deeper into firefighters’ brains for moments when conditions are deteriorating in the field and they’re air hungry, exhausted and need to act fast.

Q: What do you think of skepticism around VR training for firefighters?

A: Forty years ago, fire didn’t behave this way. We have to adapt and improve our training in a fiscally responsible way. You can’t take a firefighter into any other training experience 15 times until they get it right. Smoke Reading in Virtual Reality and VR training in general is going to empower fire departments to take firefighters to the next level where they’re informed before coming into a real evolution.

To access Smoke Reading in Virtual Reality, read more here. For questions about TargetSolutions’ new VR training activity and innovations to come, please contact us today!

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