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Cosumnes Firefighters Training With Virtual Reality

ELK GROVE (CBS13) — For the first time ever, fire academy recruits in Elk Grove and Galt are using virtual reality technology to train.

It may seem like a video game, but the lessons are very real. They're designed to help firefighters spot dangerous situations before they turn deadly.

Entering a burning building filled with thick smoke and 1,200-degree temperatures is one of the most dangerous things firefighters can do. Now this virtual reality technology is allowing Cosumnes Fire District crews to come face to face with flames without ever leaving the classroom.

"This isn't a made-up world, these are real-life situations," Battalion Chief Rick Clarke said.

Dr. Kevin Mackey, the Fire Department Medical Director, tried out the 3-D headset for the first time on Thursday.

"You put on a goggle and you feel like you just stepped into the room," Mackey said. "You can look up and actually see on the ceiling you can see the fire moving across the ceiling."

READ: Report: Firefighter Overtime Surges 65% In California

From ventilating a roof with a chainsaw to seeing a wildland fire spread, firefighters can now train in dangerous conditions without putting their lives at risk.

"Now we're able with this technology to start, stop, rewind, pause, and even in slow motion, put firefighters through the entire event over and over again," Clarke said.

VR will never completely replace live fire training, but it expands the ability to simulate scenarios like disaster response, or even a mass shooting.

"Those are going to be almost impossible for us to create, but you could mimic that in a virtual world and then put people in those stressful situations," Clarke said.

They say it provides a cost-effective way to train hundreds of first responders.

"These aren't cheap, but they're certainly less expensive than derailing a train every Saturday so you can train the entire department," Mackey said.

The equipment is currently on loan to the department and they plan on comparing this academy class to previous ones that did not have VR training to see how effective the new technology is.

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