IFSJ Exclusive: Innovative training for fire officers

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Yen I Chia, Chief Operating Officer, Emergency Response Command Academy, and Bruce Wong, the Asia-Pacific Ambassador of the Institute of Civil Protection Emergency Management, share experiences from fire commander training in New Taipei City, Taiwan

As in many modern cities, large-scale fire incidents have significantly dropped in recent years in New Taipei City due to the public’s heightened awareness of fire safety. Eventually, the new generation of fire commanders will not be able to gain experience in coordination and command, as well as communication with other partners in fire scene, such as subway, hospital, and port, etc. They can only equip themselves through training, but it is difficult for them to predict the fire behaviour and rate of fire spread, resulting in substantially reduced efficacy of the training. 

Obviously, there is a significant gap between training and reality. A few years ago, the New Taipei City Fire Department started to study how to further strengthen the command capabilities for the commanders in different levels. They learned that Virtual Reality (VR) technology emulates different disaster scenarios with great realism from South Korea, Singapore and France.

The Emergency Response Command Academy (ERCA) was established in 2018. Costing some US$1.2 million, the ERCA occupies a total floor area of 1,500 square metres and use the ADMS as the command-and-control training system. Since the official opening, more than 600 commanders were trained in ERCA each year on average.

The VR system installed 12 scenarios, such as apartments, high-rise buildings, chemical plants, tunnels and highways. Periphery of the New Taipei City Hall and nearby streets is also mapped out as the first local scene, adding to the authenticity of the training experience.

Another localised scenario is in a historic building. The public awareness of the importance of heritage conservation is increased in the Island. For protecting the irreplaceable structures, the commanders need to formulate the most suitable firefighting strategy according to distribution of historic buildings during the VR training.


The ERCA has four sections: the On-scene Simulation Training Field, Operation Section, Incident Command Post and Crisis Decision-Making Room. All sections are connected via computers.

The On-scene Simulation Training Field is the main training ground of the ERCA. It equips 14 computers for simulating different roles in disaster scenes, such as ambulance commander, police officers, witness, and so on. The commanders can practice the strategies of command and control in small-scale incident or at the early stage of disaster. These commanders can learn how to make decisions in different scenarios for the purpose of handling real situations. The Operation Section is designed for the senior commanders to strengthen the deployment capacity at scene in complex scenarios.

In order to promote effective communication internally and externally, the commanders in the room can feel as if they are in a real incident command post and communicate and coordinate with different departments by radio, instant messaging applications and video conference. During a major disaster, senior government officials might involve commanders in decision making and coordination. The senior commanders can practice the workflow for effectively coordinating across different departments in the Crisis Decision-Making Room. Different levels of commanders can receive different levels of training in ERCA.

With an establishment of 14 core instructors and 14 tactical instructors, the ERCA develops 9 training courses. The training curriculum is a combination of theories and practices. Before operating the VR, the commanders will have case study and group discussions first. Then they will have practical session by using the VR device, turn the theory into reality. Afterwards, the commanders will share their opinions with each others. Finally, the instructors will review their performance and make appropriate recommendations for improvement if necessary.

Performance evaluation

After the training, the commanders’ performance will be reviewed. If the performance is weaker than expected, the instructor will talk to the commanders being assessed to find out the reason. In the past, performance may have been biased of the commanders being assessed. Nowadays, the ERCA has an assessment system that can provide systemic and objectivity methodology, with a view to enhancing the acceptability of the evaluation as well as to provide a quantitative overview.


The ERCA has so far trained over 2,200 fire commanders over the last four years. Other fire departments from neighbouring cities also sent delegates to exchanges and learning. In addition, 2 VR table-top exercise with Toxic and Chemical Substances Bureau and Bureau of Cultural Heritage were organised to evacuate the objectives of the exercise by after-action-review and to enhance interdepartmental coordination. The VR exercise saved the cost, manpower and time to set the example of using high technology in the disaster preparedness in the Island. In 2022, the ERCA has been accredited with the ISO9001 reflecting the international training standards.

Looking forward

In the future, more local scenarios will be developed based on previous significant cases, including the fire in hospital, serious road traffic incident in highway, and hazmat incidents in port. The ERCA not only embeds in the commanders’ minds the lessons learned from previous cases, but has also become a knowledge hub to grow up with the departments from fire service, police, public health and culture.

This exclusive article was originally published in the June 2023 issue of International Fire & Safety Journal. To read your FREE digital copy, click here.

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