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Calgary Fire Department going virtual with new fire education plan

Calgary’s virtual reality fire pilot will be the first of its kind in Canada.

The Virtual Reality Fire and Life Safety Education Pilot will be a life-like opportunity for citizens and communities to learn and understand how a fire situation could be managed.

“This pilot project has never been done before in Canada, and will make the CFD unique in the way we deliver educational programming,” said Chief Steve Dongworth, in Tuesday’s Priorities and Finance Committee meeting.

The pilot will serve Calgarians who are primarily in high-risk and vulnerable groups. Dongworth said children, seniors and new Canadians who may not speak English well are at a higher risk.

“They often react differently in a fire emergency as compared to the rest of the population,” he said.

Dongworth said participants will be more prepared to face fire-related emergencies through VR learning. They will be able to identify potential fire hazards in their homes.

VR interactive education is particularly effective in increasing learning and changing behaviours, said the report. They can be offered in a variety of languages and settings such as classrooms and community spaces. It will help address gaps in the current CFD model.

Making fire safety education more accessible is necessary, as the number of fire-related injuries in Calgary increased in 2019 by 41 per cent.

The VR pilot

Fire education done in New Zealand is similar to the model that the Calgary Fire Department wants to pursue.

A $75,000 one-time withdrawal from the council innovation fund is needed for the pilot development, backed by Coun. Jyoti Gondek. There will also be funds coming from the private sector for hardware costs and licensing fees.

“I was thrilled to see that something like this is even possible,” said Coun. Gondek.

The pilot will be developed in the next several months. CFD will work with technology companies to launch and promote a virtual reality fire and safety education pilot. As well, perform post-pilot testing and evaluation.

The pilot may be further expanded to include addition fire and safety modules such as carbon monoxide, internal firefighter training, online education models and increase available languages.

As well, the CFD intends to collaborate with other fire departments that could benefit from this mode. The technology may also be used for other innovative city initiatives in the future.

“This virtual reality project has much educational promise for the future,” said Dongworth.

Stakeholders who wrote letters in favour of the program include the Calgary Board of Education and the Calgary Catholic School District, Cultural associations throughout the city, and the Calgary Public Library.