A demonstration of one of the hazardous material scenarios in the Hazmat Firefighter Training Module.

The Problem

Since 2020, the global pandemic has posed post-secondary institutions with an interesting challenge: how can professors offer engaging, experiential learning tools online while in-person classes and resources were sparse, or unavailable.

While colleges are slowly returning to in person learning, Conestoga College still saw the need for less expensive and more scalable options for said learning tools – this is when they approached XpertVR to develop a virtual training scenario that could be offered in person via VR headset as well as online for students in the pre-service firefighter program.

In the past, students in the pre-service firefighter program would practice handling hazardous materials through presentations in class or possibly in one of a handful of the live fire trainings they attend throughout the program. Although this was still an option for those returning to the classroom, it didn’t prepare students for the large range of hazardous materials they may need to confront in the real world or allow for much practice time per student. Furthermore, in order for the course outline to remain consistent, a better solution would be an independent exercise, administered outside of class time.

XpertVR’s Firefighters Hazardous Material Solution

After consulting with subject matter experts at the college, and understanding the need for a PC based learning tool (online integration) and a VR learning tool (in person) to facilitate hybrid learning, XpertVR was able to get to work and build a simulation.

The simulation replicated a warehouse and shipping yard environment where the user, a pre-service firefighter student, would be able to assume the role of the first firefighter on scene. Needing to assess the situation and make decisions on what should happen next.

The scenario allowed the user to assess the situation from a distance, refer to their hazardous material guide and decide on the best steps to proceed.

The final VR simulation allows students to put on a headset, and feel as though they are truly preparing to enter a hazardous material fire or spill zone. In each scenario the students need to be fast as lives could be at stake but also need to ensure everything is assessed properly as one missed piece of information could be fatal for the firefighter and others.

In addition to the fully immersive VR build, the desktop version was created for integration into the college’s LMS system for online learners. This build allows distance learners to utilize the same experiential learning tools as their on-campus peers, while also offering an accessible option for students that require an alternative to VR. We also saw many students using this as a way to get extra practice in while at home.

Virtual Reality firefighter manikin gear on display infront of fire engine
Controls for PC virtual reality

Results & Feedback

Conestoga College and their industry experts where blown away by the amount of interactivity and the precision of each hazardous material and how to interact with them, even when compared to the real world version. Hundreds of students are now using this simulation every year to prepare for hazardous material fire and spills in the real world. Ensuring firefighters are safer on the job so they can help those in need.

In Conclusion

This is just the beginning of VR in the eLearning space. While training with mock presentation in class or even live fire scenarios has its merits, a fully immersive experience that replicates a real world hazardous material fire with realistic equipment and varying scenarios for the user to engage with creates a more engaging and well-rounded experience for students. 

Our hope is that the independent use of this scenario ensures our future firefighters are better prepared for the hazardous materials they may face.

If you are looking for virtual solutions, reach out to our team. We would be happy to offer some insights and see how we can support you and your goals.