Virtual reality system helps Chapel Hill High School students prepare for a career in firefighting

NewsMarch 1st, 2022

This article was originally published on WRAL on February 25, 2022. Written by Rick Armstrong, WRAL photojournalist.


— A new use for virtual reality, also known as VR, now prepares students for possible careers in fire and rescue. The students experience the challenges and dangers of fighting fires within a safe environment.

Chapel Hill High School student Marcos Ochoa, 15, is among those using the Flaim Trainer System. Under the helmet, he is presented with a fire outbreak scenario on a cargo ship. Within the virtual reality world, Ochoa is lifted up high in a crane basket to attack the fire from above.

He said, “So when they started walking me back, like, ‘Dude, I’m going to walk off the crane right? I’m about to fall!’ I was like right in it, which I kind of didn’t expect.

Chapel Hill High School has offered the Firefighting Academy curriculum for several years. What is new is a dedicated fire training facility on campus as well as a new VR simulator called “Flaim Trainer” created by the company “Flaim Systems.”

It does everything from house fires to vehicle fires to docks and plane crashes,” explained Travis Adkinson, a fire safety instructor with the Chapel Hill-Carrboro School System.

Atkinson says the curriculum helps interested students plan for life after high school. “We are trying to get younger students involved in the fire service and in our curriculum.” said Atkinson. A major restriction in the curriculum is that students are not allowed to deal with live fire.

That’s where a virtual experience offers help. The Flaim Trainer includes a safe heat source within a special vest. Recently, Chapel Hill High senior Katya Ardeeva had the VR experience of fighting a fire for the first time.

The vest warms up as you get closer to the simulated fire in order to make the scenario feel more real. The equipment, including a hose and nozzle are a similar in weight to the real thing. The simulator controls contribute to the sense of realism.

It certainly impressed Ardeeva. “It was really cool. It was like you were right there.” There, in a virtual world, designed to help students prepare for the real thing in the future. “It doesn’t eliminate the need for pulling hose and working with a team. That’s what we’re going into; the unknown, all the time,” said Adkinson.

Adkinson says their Flaim Trainer system is currently one of only ten in use around the country so Chapel Hill High School is among the first to use it.