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Date last updated: Wednesday, March 3, 10:33 PST

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Ill. firefighters get 'virtual firefighting'

By Sheila Ahern
The Chicago Daily Herald

WHEELING, Ill. — Thanks to new computer software, Wheeling firefighters soon will be able to practice extinguishing fires without even having to step inside a burning building.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency will pay $30,600 — the majority of the software’s cost. The village board approved spending an additional $3,400 for the software Monday.

"It’s virtual firefighting," Wheeling Fire Chief Keith MacIsaac said. "It’s just like the programs military people use to learn virtual warfare."

Up to 30 firefighters can participate at one time. The group can practice fighting fires anywhere from small homes to large factories, MacIsaac said.

And they'll learn to work together as if they were in a real fire. For example, if one firefighter cuts a hole in a roof to let out smoke, the other firefighters inside the building will see smoke decrease on their computer screen. The software, called Flame-Sim, is also used by the Hoffman Estates and Palatine fire departments.

"We have a lot of new guys and younger employees, so this will be a big advantage for us," MacIsaac said. "Nothing replaces hands-on training, but this is so much better than chalkboard classroom teaching."

The program should be up and running within the next 90 days.

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