Virtual reality makes home fire sprinklers a local reality
It’s not always practical to conduct a live burn to showcase the true value and impact of home fire sprinklers, but as we all know, seeing is believing. At the NFPA Conference & Expo®, HFSC Communications Manager Peg Paul and I led an education session about a powerful way to conduct a side-by-side sprinkler demo that doesn’t involve actual flames: virtual reality (VR).
HFSC’s new VR home fire and sprinkler activation video is changing the way we fire and life safety educators reach our audiences, especially the ones that are hard to reach. That’s because this side-by-side is truly portable; it requires no construction, no permitting and no live fire. And because the attendees at our session had such a positive reaction to the new VR resources, I wanted to share them with you.
State-of-the-art virtual reality
The VR video was produced using state-of-the-art cinematic technology to capture actual house fires in two identical living rooms. In one room, viewers experience the fire in real time until flashover occurs. In the other room, they see how the high heat from the fire activates the sprinkler, controlling the fire and smoke. The comparison video showing the difference with sprinklers is especially memorable. The attendees in our session agreed that one of the strongest features is that what viewers see is real. Unlike VR animation, this resource offers a realistic educational opportunity to understand what a home fire is like, and how vital fire sprinklers are to escape, survival and property protection.
Intended for adults, the dramatic video is available at no cost on HFSC’s YouTube channel for anyone to view in 2D. This gives them the ability to experience the video by using a smart device to “move around” in the fire rooms.
We encouraged attendees to consider using the VR video to reach and educate future homebuyers in their communities. Through digital advertising, HFSC is targeting people planning to build new homes, primarily millennials – the demographic making up the largest share of homebuyers of any generation. In a survey of homeowners, 80% of millennials who were educated about how sprinklers worked said they would prefer a to buy a home with home fire sprinklers. With a strong new-home construction market, that finding underscores the importance of widespread education in most communities.
Advertising the facts about home fires and fire sprinkler technology, and the new, free virtual reality video online, is proving effective. Since the video was posted five months ago, it has been viewed more than 350,000 times with the average view time of three minutes. We invited attendees to link to HFSC’s YouTube channel, website and post the VR video on their department websites directly and I encourage you to do the same. Social media is another smart method to reach consumers. HFSC offers a variety of downloadable social media cards to simplify posts to any social account.
Virtual reality in 3D
To explore the value of an enhanced 3D experience, HFSC has been evaluating cost-effective 3D glasses that are used with a smart phone. With the smart phone open to the YouTube video, the user clips their phone onto the reusable glasses and experiences the VR video in dramatic 360-degrees. Our session attendees loved them! In addition to offering the glasses through fire and life safety conferences, including C&E, HFSC recently shared the glasses with 50 Built for Life Fire Departments that are using and evaluating them as part of their community risk reduction outreach.
HFSC Immersive Virtual Reality Kit for fire educators
The most immersive experience with this virtual home fire and flashover video is achieved by wearing VR headsets. HFSC has produced a small number of full-scale VR kits complete with 15 headsets, a presenter laptop and a self-contained rolling case. Using the kit, the presenter can show the new VR video to a group or use the headsets with individuals. The kit can be transported and used indefinitely.
HFSC is currently evaluating the effectiveness of the immersive kit in five regions throughout the country. Using funding from a 2021 FEMA FP&S grant, this evaluation is targeting varied stakeholders who play a role in determining if new-construction homes will be protected with fire sprinklers. In addition to the fire service and AHJs, these stakeholders include developers, builders, planners, building officials and other local decision-makers and water purveyors. By bringing the immersive VR experience to them, fire and life safety educators are finding it much easier to reach and educate these stakeholders.
Based on 400 evaluations to date, local results are promising. More than 90% of users said it was a realistic experience and gave it high marks for the ability to “move around” in the rooms. When asked to rank the educational benefit of the experience, 85% gave it the highest rank. A few members of the fire service said the immersive experience was so realistic they could almost smell the smoke.
Incentives can seal the deal
Peg and I devoted a lot of our session to talking about how this new virtual educational tool can enhance local AHJ outreach to builders and developers. We shared HFSC’s developer incentive program, which provides free information and case studies on AHJs who have used it successfully to increase sprinklered new-home construction in their jurisdictions.
We had an active discussion with attendees about the challenges fire departments face dealing with sprinkler myths, code update challenges and other negativity that impacts even voluntary sprinkler installations. As a result, in communities without new- construction home fire sprinkler requirements, local developer incentives are an essential strategy for AHJs to achieve protection of entire developments.
Fortunately, the incentive approach is effective. Regardless of code restrictions, AHJs have the authority to offer valuable incentives (aka trade ups) and they are using this power with increasing success. Developer incentives, best negotiated at the pre-approval stage, are offered in exchange for full sprinkler protection to facilitate profitable infrastructure flexibility. By taking advantage of these, developers can utilize land better for higher revenue and reduce infrastructure and other construction costs. The upshot? A local AHJ-led developer incentive program is a mutually beneficial strategy that helps achieve Community Risk Reduction goals, protecting residents, firefighters and the entire community.
See for yourself why this new virtual reality home fire and sprinkler activation video is a better side-by-side! And please, share your experiences with us so we can keep improving this resource.