The Perrysburg Township Fire Department conducted the first live demonstration to fight a virtual reality fire Oct. 26 in the new training facility at the Center for Emergency Preparedness at Owens Community College.
“It’s pretty cool to teach guys what it’s like to fight a fire without being in a dangerous situation,” said Jake Hoffman, a veteran member of the Perrysburg Township Fire Department “The smoke in the room really helps to make it real but they need to have the heat and noise of the fire if possible.”
The crew of five firemen from Perrysburg Township Engine No. 501, including Hoffman, Dave Bitz, Mike Green, Matt Homik and Wesley Waggoner, used a fire truck, equipment and water to fight the virtual fire in the initial training exercise.
Anything is possible with the Emergency Service Virtual Training program, Bruce Baker said. His firm, Baker Media Productions, Inc., developed it in partnership with architects from Sitzenstock Associates Inc. of Maumee, who designed the facility.
“There’s nothing comparable to it in the country,” said Baker. “It’s totally different than any other video we’ve done in 25 years and has taken months to develop what we have.”
“We developed special methods to create the video in realistic scenarios for training fire and emergency personnel. Everything on the screens has to be real video, not computer generated like video games,” Baker said.
“It’s as real as you can get without getting hot or using actual fire,” said George Sitzenstock, project manager for designing the facility.
“Other facilities don’t allow water to fight fire indoors so we came up with the idea for live water training with real equipment using video fires. We were fortunate to find Baker, who could develop the virtual programs to create the controlled environment for training indoors,” Sitzenstock said.
The five-story indoor virtual training facility includes a four-story building with numerous rooms, doors, windows and a rooftop area. Fire crews can drive their trucks into the structure; connect hoses to a real fire hydrant; and use ladders and rope systems for climbing and lowering victims.
The facility is designed to replicate a city scene with buildings, ranging from one to four stories. Virtual training scenarios include fires in a bedroom, living room, laundry room, storage facility and flames projected on windows and exterior surfaces of the structure.
The virtual reality programs are operated by a computerized system with video monitors in a control room. Baker is teaching the fire training instructors at Owens to operate the system.
He said they want to expand the program to create different virtual reality scenarios for tactical training of first responders to include a building collapse, hazardous materials, school and terrorist situations. The virtual training programs are created in Baker’s studios in Perrysburg and Findlay.
“It’s a tremendous asset that will help local partners train personnel in virtual scenarios that can be done indoors year-round with this city setting in our facility,” said Michael Cornell, director of the Center for Emergency Preparedness at Owens.
The operations and training center provides expanded opportunities for real-world scenario training with the only indoor emergency services virtual system in the country, said Cornell.
Owens recently opened the new $3.2 million Training and Operations Center within the Emergency Preparedness Center located on Tracy Road in Perrysburg Township.
The 29,000 square-foot training center includes six classrooms, eight offices, two reception areas and locker room facilities. The 62-foot high bay complex has 10 overhead doors for moving emergency vehicles in and out.
Cornell said Owens is already reaching out nationally to potential users with fire and law enforcement agencies in Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland and New York that are interested in using these training facilities at Owens.
Many police, fire, emergency services and military personnel from Northwest Ohio and beyond, including the FBI, Ohio National Guard and Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections have used the Emergency Preparedness Center for training, Cornell said.
The training and operations center was designed by the father and son team of Bob and George Sitzenstock. Their firm has been involved in the design of educational and medical facilities for Owens and UT, including UT’s main hospital on its medical campus and Performing Arts Center on its main campus.
Van Tassel Construction Corp. of Ottawa Lake, Mich. served as general contractor for the training and operations center. Brint Electric of Toledo and Accel Fire Systems Inc. of Sylvania oversaw the electrical, fire protection, mechanical and plumbing construction for the project.
The $20.5 million Center for Emergency Preparedness located on 110 acres opened in 2007.
Cornell became the director of the Center for Emergency Preparedness at Owens in January. He is responsible for all activities within the facility that serves as a regional, state and national education and resource center for public safety and emergency response training.
Cornell has extensive experience in emergency planning and public health preparedness, according to his Owens biography. He has served as director of emergency services for the U.S. Army in Stockton, Utah, and as an instructor at the Institute of Emergency Management at Idaho State University.