Out of the fire and into the…sandbox? New simulation tool takes some of the heat off of firefighter training

Sandboxes are usually reserved for toddlers – but a very special one is an important new Photo of the Hinton Training Centre's sand simulation table. tool in our firefighting arsenal. It’s giving our wildland firefighters a new kind of hands-on experience – without even burning a twig.

Practice makes perfect, and that’s as true of fighting wildfires as it is for anything else. The best way to learn the effectiveness of different firefighting techniques is to test them under different conditions – and our wildland firefighters spend lots of time in the field, doing exactly that.

But this kind of experience is also expensive and time-consuming. These limitations can make it hard for students to compare different approaches and variables across situations. A simulation sand table – the first of its kind in Canada – is helping the students at the Hinton Training Centre to overcome these barriers.

Using satellite maps as a reference, we can change the sand to mimic topographical elements like mountains, rivers, and valleys. Once the stage is set, the effects of a wildfire are simulated. Features like temperature, wind speed and direction, and time of day can be changed – and students can watch the wildfire react to these changes. They decide where to place firefighting crews, and see the effects of creating fuel breaks, dropping fire retardant, and other tactics.

Close-up photo of the sand simulation table.

Students can fast-forward to see the results of their choices instantly – and learn from them. And because they’re learning from a simulation, that simulation can be run again and again to allow them to test their new knowledge before they face a real wildfire. The result is smarter training. And that’s good news for our crews and for the communities – and forest ecosystems – they protect.


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