Fire trainees won't feel the burn

A National Institute of Standards and Technology computer simulation will show firefighters-in-training how to lessen their chances of injury.

NIST researchers are converting the Fire Dynamic Simulator and imaging software called Smokeview to display more quickly and realistically the smoke, hot air and poisonous gases that erupt from blazes.

They envision firefighters using virtual-reality headgear to see in three dimensions the fire and smoke images displayed by an SGI computer on two eight-foot screens.

'This is kind of a poor man's holodeck,' said Glenn Forney, a computer scientist at NIST's Building and Fire Research Laboratory, referring to the virtual reality environment in 'Star Trek.'

The 3-D project will take three to four more years, Forney said, but NIST hopes to give firefighters CD-ROMs loaded with role-playing software as early as next year.

'Someone asked me, 'Could you make your software more compatible with [video games] Quake and Doom?' ' Forney said. 'So that's what I did. I made some keystrokes similar to what computer gamers were expecting.'

The visualization upgrades will eventually render complex, multistory fires as well as potential outcomes from a firefighter's actions, such as opening a window or pointing a hose in a certain direction.

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