While you can debate the merits of the video games kids play – a researcher is hoping a game-like experience will help save kids lives. Iowa State University professor Shana Smith is teaming up with the Ames Fire Department to develop a virtual fire safety training program for kids. She says virtual reality is a very good application tool for some risk training as she says you can’t put kids in a real fire situation to train them. Smith says the kids will in the Virtual Reality Applications Center at Iowa State where she can create virtual 3-D images of what a fire might look like in their home, apartment or school. Ames Deputy Fire Chief Paul Sandoval says the 10 to 14 year-old students have already heard many lessons on fire safety — but this will be something new. He says, “Hopefully we’re able to connect with them through the means they’re using already. Some the equipment they’re using such as the Gameboys, Playstations, what have you. This is another way, it’s going to be interesting and exciting.” The virtual reality chamber at I-S-U can make things look very real, but Sandoval says they’ll make sure the kids don’t get scared. He says they’ll make sure it’s age appropriate and teaching them fire safety in a safe and friendly way. Sandoval says if the virtual experience helps teach kids the proper way to do things, it could pay off in a big way. He says if they could maintain what they’ve learned and not panic, it could very well save their life. Smith received a grant from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to develop the program. She says they hope to ultimately make it a nationwide program, but for now it’s a one-year program to test how it works. Smith started working on the project in April and hopes to start testing the training program with children this fall.
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