Using Simulations to Enhance Fire Crew Training

The purpose of this guide is to present ideas for why and how simulation-based training should be included in multiple aspects of every department’s operations and training programs. It is divided into two parts:

  • Part I. Using Simulation-Based Training in the Fire Service: Typical training areas where simulations can fit; and,
  • Part II. Developing Your Simulation Training Plan: A ‘how do I start’ guide with suggestions to help you enhance your own program.

Part I. Using Simulation-Based Training in the Fire Service

Although computerized simulation-based training has been known in the American Fire Service for over 20 years, it has been underutilized and largely misunderstood during that time. Some typical reasons for not adopting computer-based simulation are fear of technology, budget issues, building simulations that cause even the best incident commander to fail, or just a lack of time to build simulations.

We absolutely and unequivocally believe in the need for live-action evolutions as part of training. Computer-based training cannot replace those. However, proper use of computerized simulations can significantly improve an organization’s readiness by providing relevant, consistent, efficient, and more frequent practice and evaluation opportunities.

The NIOSH Firefighter Fatality Investigation and Prevention program has identified the Top 5 causes for Line of Duty Deaths on the Fireground. They are as follows:

  1. Lack of Risk Assessment – including the following:
    • Lack of size-up
    • Continuous fire growth and building monitoring
    • 360 surveys of the scene.
  2. Lack of Incident Command
  3. Lack of Fireground Accountability
  4. Communications Troubles on the Fireground
  5. Lack of SOGs/SOPs or failure to follow SOGs/SOPs


Each of these aspects of firefighter line of duty deaths can be improved upon using computer-based simulation training.  Departments serious about preventing death and injuries of its members need to start with these NIOSH 5 causes in mind to prepare their departments.  We as fire officers and fire instructors want to be able to use simulation-based training to develop and protect our members, learn from history without repeating it, train consistently, and validate proficiency through training.  

There are three rules of simulation-based training that should always be kept in mind:

  1. It can be enjoyable and fun, but its purpose is to teach not entertain
  2. It’s training, not hazing
  3. No one ‘fails’ while conducting simulation-based training – students must discuss the issues with a simulation, before returning to the simulator to conduct the simulation the correct way as to develop the correct, “slide in their slide tray”.


In the following sections, we present specific uses of simulation-based training in five areas:

  1. Company-Level Training
  2. Officer Development
  3. SOG Development and Validation
  4. Promotional Exams
  5. Continuing Education.

Next section: I.1 Using Simulations for Company-Level Training –>