Using Simulations for Fire Officer Development

The typical purpose of using simulations for officer development programs is to give potential officers realistic and relevant opportunities to practice and demonstrate the operational fireground skills required to perform at that rank. The simulations may also be used in the process of teaching requisite knowledge to illustrate concepts.

Example Exercise Topics

  • Strategy Selection
  • Size-Ups
  • Initial Reports
  • Transfer of Command
  • Recognition Primed Decision Making (RPDM)
  • Reading the building
  • Reading smoke and fire
  • Risk identification
  • Risk mitigation

Officer Development programs train future officers on the skills they need to master in leading their subordinates, coordinating with their superiors, and interacting with others involved in emergency response. Exposing future officers to all relevant incident types is invaluable and may not be practical or achievable on the training ground. Since the all-hazards capabilities of SimsUshare allows an organization to create simulations for nearly all imaginable incident types, you can use SimsUshare to teach and evaluate students at an appropriate level, and enable them to practice what they learn.

In typical officer development programs, students must be exposed to different occupancy and construction types, as well as incident types during their initial and recurring training, as they develop the skills to operate as an officer in your organization. It’s up to you to determine the specific skill set for the level for which you are training (e.g., Lieutenant, Captain, or Executive Officer).

Officer Development can take the form of formal officer academies and devoted study or informal programs that include training for firefighters or officers acting in a superior rank (i.e., ‘acting officers’).


Students are exposed to real life incidents, in a safe and controlled environment which is conducive to learning.  Students can experience more incidents using simulations than they would respond to in months or years, depending on the organizations call volume, thereby enhancing knowledge, skills and abilities in a much shorter timeframe.  Students can receive immediate feedback and be provided the opportunity to apply new knowledge and skills within the same day.

Example Procedure

Training may be divided into several parts:

  1. Online or self-paced learning: knowledge and procedure acquisition before classroom or sim lab training. Simulated situations can be presented, with automated feedback or guidance, to help students practice for classroom and sim lab performance
  2. Classroom: teaching, discussion, and practice with immediate or delayed feedback. Short-duration simulations can be interspersed with teaching knowledge or procedures, as concrete illustrations can make the learning more impactful 
  3. Sim Lab: Practicing skills, applying knowledge, and evaluating performance. Personnel can rotate through positions (command and otherwise) to help them know what to expect and get the routine down.

While classroom time is precious due to expense and logistics, don’t overload classes with content in short periods. Learning experts recognize that frequency of training and spacing between training sessions aid in skill retention. 

In the next sections, we present specific processes for Officer Development in critical foundation areas.

I.2.1 Occupancy Status

New Officers should be exposed to several repetitions of identifying occupancy status.  Occupancy status may be confused with occupancy type but is completely separate.

Occupancy status will always be one of the following:

  1. Occupied
  2. Unoccupied
  3. Vacant
  4. Abandoned

Occupancy status is the first item that should be considered prior to strategy selection and subsequent development of an Incident Action Plan (IPA).

Occupancy status is the foundation of every risk/benefit profile based on incident priorities of Life Safety, Incident Stabilization and Property Conservation (see Appendix C for a checklist you can use to evaluate objectives met during training exercises).

Still photos should be used for this training.  Ensure photos include each status type.

The following process should be used:

  1. Present a single photo 
  2. Officer identifies occupancy status
  3. Officer provides feedback as to why status was selected
  4. Discuss factors influencing occupancy status, such as:
    1. time of day
    2. vehicles present
    3. economy (good economy allows one parent to remain home concept)
    4. children’s toys present outside
    5. real estate signage
    6. signs of unkept property (overgrown grass), absence of window coverings or furniture etc.  State of disrepair, broken windows etc.
  5. Repeat process a minimum of 3 times for each Officer

I.2.2 Strategy Identification/Selection

Simple, single-view simulated scenarios can be utilized to develop strategy selection skills for all Fire Officers.  Start with single family residential and transition to commercial occupancies.  This training should occur in a Sets & Reps manner to build “muscle memory”.

The following procedures will build knowledge, skills, abilities and confidence:

  1. Present a “scenario” to an officer
  2. Allow adequate time to process available information
  3. Officer identifies a strategy
  4. Have officer explain justification for selected strategy, keeping in mind the incident priorities; Life Safety, Incident Stabilization, Property Conservation
  5. The selected strategy must support incident priorities based on a risk/benefit profile
  6. Discuss indicators present in the “scenario” that should influence strategy selection, such as; time of day, likelihood of occupancy, vehicles present, children toys in yard etc.  Fireground clock, occupancy status, fire/smoke conditions, tenability of interior conditions, resources or lack thereof etc.
  7. Repeat a minimum of 3 times for each officer.

I.2.3 Incident Action Plan

Develop multiple exterior view scenarios that allow the officer to obtain the information necessary to rapidly develop an Incident Action Plan.  

The instructor can navigate the scenario at the request of the officer to provide the requested position view. An example would be smoke/fire showing on the C Side of a commercial occupancy.  Although it may appear to be coming from the structure, it would actually be a dumpster fire.  This highlights the need to ascertain all available information prior to developing/announcing the IAP and committing resources.

The following steps should be conducted:

  1. Present scenario to officer
  2. Navigate exterior views if necessary/as requested
  3. Officer then verbalizes his IAP
  4. Discuss the IAP and factors influencing IAP
  5. The IAP should involve the first due unit and/or first alarm assignment
  6. Repeat a minimum of 3 times for each candidate

I.2.4 Initial Reporting

Officers should develop skills to complete the Initial Report based on arrival information, which would normally include a minimum of 2 sides of the structure.  Any scenario including this would be sufficient for this section of training.

If the organization does not utilize a standardized Initial Report, it is critical that one be developed prior to this training. Each officer should be presented a scenario and provide an Initial Report in a timely manner, including all information required in the Initial Report.  Complete a minimum of 3 rotations for each officer.

I.2.5 Full Scenarios

Upon completion of didactic training and previously discussed training sections, officers are exposed to full scenarios. Training should begin with simple, single family residential and consistently building on the officer’s knowledge, skills and abilities.  

The most important factor during scenarios is to allow the officer to be successful yet operating on the outer limit of their comfort zone, which is the only way to develop knowledge, skills and abilities. Success does not always mean correct decisions, but students should not be given scenarios that will result in apparent failure.

There should be enough role players to fill a first alarm assignment, which is one role player per apparatus.

Scenarios should be conducted in the exact manner that the organization expects an actual response to occur.  All communications should occur on a training channel or talk about radio to reflect “real life”.

Scenarios should be limited to Initial Report and assignment of the first alarm, which normally occurs within 5-7 minutes.  Arrival times of apparatus/role players should be compressed, but within reality of actual times.

Upon completion of each scenario, the instructor should lead an immediate Debrief, utilizing a standardized debrief form such as given in Appendix C.

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