NYU-Poly keeps fire departments informed with ALIVE

File photo by Lauren Kim for WSN
File photo by Lauren Kim for WSN

To help protect the individuals who protect us, a team of researchers from the Polytechnic Institute of NYU, in conjunction with the New York City Fire Department, the Chicago Fire Department and the Bloomington Fire Department, has developed an interactive game-like training tool called Advanced Learning through Integrated Visual Environments.

Before ALIVE’s conception, fire departments nationwide had used traditional classroom settings to equip firefighters with the necessary knowledge for functioning in the modern firefighting environment. Although this classroom method was fairly efficient, there was still a clear gap between new knowledge from researchers and information firefighters know. ALIVE allows firefighters to immerse themselves in fire-related research.

“New research on fire dynamics was being accomplished but it wasn’t being sent out to the firefighters in a quick manner,” Captain Erik Smith of the FDNY said. “But with ALIVE, the information can be widely disseminated.”

The Federal Emergency Management Agency was searching for a more effective and convenient means of dispersing fire-related information, so it gave NYU-Poly’s Sunil Kumar and colleagues a grant through the Assistance to Firefighters. With this grant, Kumar and his partners compared the ALIVE tool and the classroom setting in three different cities — New York, Chicago and Minnesota.

“We have about 100 fire departments that are officially training their firefighters using ALIVE,” NYU-Poly senior research scientist Prabodh Panindre said. “They each have their own specialized portals.”

Firefighters were randomly assigned to learn the same material from either the ALIVE tool or in a classroom with a qualified teacher. The pre-test and post-test scores of the firefighters who learned through the ALIVE tools showed better results than those with the teacher.

“We would have been thrilled even if ALIVE had been just as good as the classroom method, but what we found was that in all three cities, the ALIVE tool was actually better,” said Richard Wener, a professor of environmental psychology at NYU-Poly and one of ALIVE’s developers.

The modules involved in ALIVE, which is available online and through smartphone apps, cover topics concerned with fire dynamics. Since research continues to evolve and change, there is a constant need to update firefighters. ALIVE offers an easier means of disseminating information to fire departments in various locations.

“What this tool does is try to bring in an element of interactivity so that complex research can be broken down into small chunks so that it becomes accessible to everyone,” Kumar said.

The project has been in development since 2008, but was made publicly accessible in April 2013. As of now, the program is being adopted by 50 fire departments nationwide, with the FDNY working to have it ready for fall training and refresher courses.

“It is a whole different way of giving knowledge to people,” Kumar said.

Avery Chang is a staff writer. Email her at [email protected]

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