New Accessible Training Program Designed to Keep Firefighters ALIVE

By Ulysses Seal, Prabodh Panindre, Erik Smith, James Dalton, Richard Wener, Sunil Kumar

“Fire doesn’t recognize the difference between full-time and volunteer – we have to be prepared,” says Fire Chief Ulysses (Ulie) Seal of the Bloomington (MN) Fire Department. Unfortunately, lack of sufficient knowledge and up-to-date training is a very real hurdle that results in many preventable firefighter injuries and fatalities each year. There is an enormous gap between recommended practices by new fire research findings and real-life practices in the field.

Considering the cost, time, infrastructure, resources, logistics, and administration necessary to provide training for new firefighting methods and practices, this gap is even bigger for the volunteer firefighting community. More than 70 percent of firefighters nationwide are volunteers, and until now a scientifically tested and proven effective tool that can rapidly disseminate new firefighting interventions to all volunteer firefighters at no cost simply did not exist.

With support from the Assistance to Firefighters Grant Program, and in collaboration with the Fire Department of New York, the Chicago Fire Department, and the Bloomington (MN) Fire Department, scientists from New York University’s Polytechnic School of Engineering (NYU-Poly) conducted research to develop a web-based training  – called ALIVE – that is capable of the disseminating and diffusing new firefighting information and techniques to responders across the nation. ALIVE is a multimedia interactive training that utilizes graphics, audio, and videos to present novel information in an accessible format for firefighters. Users are given hypothetical scenarios to simulate the critical decision-making process that they would face on the fireground to test how well they understood the information for the given topic.
Volunteer firefighters were an essential part of the research study. The project’s advisory board selected three volunteer departments from Minnesota, the Bloomington Fire Department, Eden Prairie Fire Department, and Eagan Fire Department, to participate in a field experiment that provided a realistic training experience of both traditional classroom and ALIVE training for three different firefighting topics. More information about this research is available at

The results of the study confirmed that although all firefighters improved their knowledge through both classroom and ALIVE training, ALIVE subjects scored higher on knowledge post-tests and retention tests than the classroom subjects did. Firefighters also rated their self-knowledge of these topics as significantly greater after ALIVE training than after the classroom experience. There were no significant differences in their rating of the quality of training. This was true for all departments and for all three topics tested. Please note that ALIVE is meant to supplement traditional classroom methods, allowing trainers to spend more time conducting demonstrations, hands-on training, and answering questions. Researchers advocate that classroom training is still a vital component of firefighter training that cannot be replaced.

The modular format of ALIVE allows users to pause and repeat sections as often as they need to learn the information. This is particularly beneficial to volunteer departments, which do not have the same resources of large, career departments but require the same high-quality training. In fact, during the research experiment, training on one morning was interrupted by a fire call in Bloomington which took a number of firefighters in the ALIVE group away from training for about an hour. The officials were impressed by the firefighters’ ability to return and easily continue the training. This event pointed to the capabilities of volunteer firefighters to adeptly manage their difficult jobs along with other tasks, and also highlighted an advantage of ALIVE – that it can be interrupted and easily re-started at any point in training.

Teaching and learning modern fire behavior is not an easy task. Consistency of the information delivered is important to how easily it can be understood and implemented. ALIVE allows every fire department and firefighter to have training on complex technical topics in a consistent format approved by subject matter experts. Moreover, users can access the modules online or from mobile devices allowing greater flexibility to accommodate demanding schedules, a conflict that is especially common to volunteer firefighters. Without the logistical and time constraints of the classroom, the ALIVE system disseminates ground-breaking fire behavior research directly to the large number of firefighters who will apply it. This way, volunteer and career firefighters will all have the same tools.

The ALIVE research is being featured at the Fire House Expo Conference (July 26, 10:15-11:45 am, Room 318) and the Fire-Rescue International Conference (August 16, 1 – 2:30 pm, Track: SHW-13). Two modules of ALIVE, Wind-Driven High-Rise Fires and Fires in Residential Lightweight Construction, have been released to the nationwide firefighter community. The iOS and Android applications of this training are also available at

Several career and volunteer fire departments from different parts of the nation are integrating ALIVE into their training programs, including the Chicago Fire Department and the Cleveland Fire Department. Your department can take advantage of this advanced multimedia interactive tool at no cost. The scientists from NYU-Poly will work with your training academies to build a customized ALIVE portal for your department.
If your fire department is interested in utilizing this scientifically tested and proven training, please contact the NYU-Poly Fire Research Group at

Ulysses Seal is Fire Chief of Bloomington (MN) Fire Department. Prabodh Panindre is Senior Research Scientist at NYU-Poly. Erik Smith is an FDNY captain assigned to the 7th Division in the Bronx. James M. Dalton is the Coordinator of Research and Development for the CFD. Richard Wener is Professor of Environmental Psychology at NYU-Poly and co-Principal Investigator of this research study. Sunil Kumar is Primary Investigator of fire research projects at NYU-Poly. He is the Dean of Engineering at New York University Abu Dhabi and Professor of Mechanical Engineering at NYU-Poly.