Cheshire FRS Incident Command Training Suite

Shortlisted for prestigious national award

The Cheshire Fire and Rescue Service is proud to announce that their Incident Command Training Suite (ICTS), a virtual training facility using the RescueSim Incident Command Simulator has been shortlisted for the ‘Driving Efficiency Through Technology’ award, which is part of the acclaimed LGC (Local Government Chronicle) Awards. Over 600 outside training courses and 3,000 internal courses have been undertaken in the ICTS to date.

The Cheshire Fire and Rescue Services have recently extended their partnership with VSTEP simulation, the developer of the RescueSim Incident Command Simulator, prompting further cooperation and development to remain at the pinnacle of incident command training and simulation.

The ‘Driving Efficiency Through Technology’ award is part of the LGC (Local Government Chronicle) Awards, which have seen a record number of entries for the 2015 event. The LGC created this category of award recognising that developing technology has the potential to bring both financial and practical benefits in the way resources are used to create a more efficient organisation.

Cheshire Fire and Rescue Service’s Incident command training suite (ICTS) meets all the criteria for this new award. Opened in 2010, the suite has been hailed as one of the best training facilities of its kind in the UK. It was designed to enable Cheshire Fire and Rescue Service to provide all its incident commanders with the opportunity to develop and practice the full range of decision-making skills they require at operational incident. It is a most realistic and immersive training environment currently available, saving the Service thousands of pounds in training costs.

The ICTS is a 3D environment providing live practical training to incident response and command. Incorporating a range of innovative features, it includes fully flexible virtual reality software capable of recreating any type of fire or incident. Its multi-display screens create a 360 degree view of a major emergency and an advanced CCTV and sound system which is linked to assessment recording software allows high quality feedback to the candidate following the training or assessment session. In short, it provides the most realistic training environment possible to experience high risk incidents without physically attending them.

The suite was instigated by the Service, with a view to leading the way with command training simulation which was not readily available in the UK at the time. A worldwide search for the best simulation software that could be adapted for their use was undertaken. VSTEP, a company based in Holland, was appointed following a procurement process to utilise their software called RescueSim.

For multiple participants in a group exercise, one commander is assigned the role of Incident Commander and takes control during the scenario, other students can support and assist and take on other functional roles. Decisions taken and any subsequent consequences are played out on the screen supported by live role players, with a collective debrief held after the incident assessing the quality of the decision-making. This multi-user training allows for the full co-ordination of training between different functional officers and emergency services simultaneously, enabling training at operational, tactical and strategic levels. It has also played a huge part in training for, and embedding the JESIP principles into our organisation.

Feedback is critical to the development of an incident commander. Written and verbal communication is effective but, when accompanied by a visual record, clearer and more meaningful feedback can be obtained. The integrated StudioCode software allows the capture of all the CCTV feeds and sound recordings taking within the training area.

The Incident commander is able to achieve predefined learning goals for small and large-scale scenarios, ensuring they will be prepared for incidents which would be impossible to train for using real-life exercises hoping to achieve the same level of authenticity

Leading the team that manages the ICTS is Area Manager Gus O’Rourke. He explains: "We have worked hard, and continue to challenge how we do things, we feel no other fire service in the UK has a training suite quite like this, lots of services have visited with a view to either developing their own suite or booking training here in Cheshire.”

VSTEP’s Marketing Manager Frank Dolmans adds: "We are extremely proud to work as the technology partner for Cheshire Fire and Rescue Service and provide our RescueSim Incident Command Simulator for their ICTS . This is the most innovative virtual incident command training facility that we have seen in Europe, combining the most advanced simulation technology with state-of-the-art training facilities.”

As Cheshire has the second largest concentration of COMAH (Control of Major Accident and Hazards) sites in the UK, ranged along the North West border of the county, the Service liaises with the local industry fire managers’ forum. The forum comprises representatives from the COMAH sites and the Service is working closely with them to develop training on a collaborative basis.

Gus acknowledges that while there would always be a need for practical skills training in using equipment to fight fires and rescue people from vehicles, the use of virtual reality facilities is also a vital element now and in the future.

"Cheshire is now far safer than it used to be with major reductions in the number of fires and incidents we attend. That means far less live opportunities for staff to develop their practical and decision-making skills so our suite is essential in providing a completely safe environment for people to become competent in managing a whole range of emergency incidents,” he said.

“For our facility to be acknowledged in this way is fantastic as it highlights the excellent work done by our staff. The team have worked so hard to create, update and customise the scenarios and software for the benefit of our operational firefighters and external users. It also recognises the vision and ambition of Cheshire Fire Authority and the Chief Fire Officer who have fully supported this initiative from its inception.”

The suite demonstrates the future of emergency service, business and community based emergency training. Cheshire is currently the only fire and rescue service in the UK to be running multi-sectored scenarios within its facility. The suite provides training that is effective, unrestricted by scale, realistic and provides the Service with high levels of quality assurance and confidence in its operational personnel.

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