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Simulator Trains Firefighters to Cope with On-the-Job Stress

By Nikhita Venugopal | September 25, 2014 4:50pm
 Friends of Firefighters, a Red Hook nonprofit for active and retired firefighters, recently started offering a simulator to help firefighters cope with the stress of their jobs. 
Friends of Firefighters
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RED HOOK — A Red Hook nonprofit is hoping to help firefighters cope with their stressful work by simulating the real-life battles they face on the job.

Friends of Firefighters, which works on behalf of active duty and retired FDNY members and their families, recently began using its OVEI pod, an enclosed chamber that’s used to imitate an environment, to help firefighters recreate tense firefighting situations — and learn how to keep themselves calm amid the stress they induce.

The training is specifically geared for active-duty firefighters and uses a technique called biofeedback, through which people can learn how to control functions like heart rate and breathing, said Rita Desyatnik, biofeedback coach for the Friends of Firefighters.

Friends of Firefighters has been using the pod for about three years after Eve Bucca, a volunteer whose firefighter huband died during the Sept. 11 attacks, helped introduce the biofeedback program to the organization. Bucca funds the rental of the pod, according to a previous news report.

The nonprofit's free simulation service, which was launched about two months ago, is not affiliated with the FDNY’s official training academy, which also offers simulation training in order to help firefighters prepare for the field, FDNY officials said.

Inside the OVEI pod, the firefighters sit on a reclining chair and are attached to sensors that monitor readings like heart rate, breathing and skin temperature, Desyatnik said.

The sensors record those physiological functions to measure each firefighter's responses to the simulation, she said.

The simulation uses actual footage from a firefighter’s helmet camera, and allows those sitting in the pod to watch as a smoky scene unfolds in as close to a first-person experience as possible.

“It takes the guesswork out,” said Desyatnik, who is pursuing a Masters degree in industrial and organizational psychology.

In addition to the standard fire, some firefighters choose to bring their own personal videos and wear their breathing masks while in the pod, to make the situation feel even more real, Desyatnik said.

Firefighters interested in the program can contact the organization to schedule a session. While results can be seen after only a few trainings, Desyatnik recommends eight sessions for her clients, she said.

Through FoF’s training and practice, firefighters can learn to focus on steady diaphragmatic breathing and relaxing muscles to cope with moments of anxiety. The organization also has counselors available for clients, they said.

But biofeedback training isn’t just for firefighters suffering from extreme disorders like panic attacks or insomnia, Desyatnik said. 

“The training does not have to be for people who are having trouble on the job,” she said. “The earlier you can train someone, the better. Always.”

For more information on Friends of Firefighters simulator, contact them here.