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Ambulance driving simulator trains Fla. responders

By Pete Skiba
Naples Daily News
Copyright 2008 Naples Daily News

LEE COUNTY, Fla. — A speeding driver’s pickup went through a red light, hit a school bus and burst into flames injuring 18 children.


It was a training simulation.

Although the school-bus crash simulation happened during training in Georgia, it illustrates the value of Lee County Emergency Medical Services’ new ambulance-driving simulator, said Michael Stricek, senior vice president of Doron Precision Systems Inc., the training machine’s developer.

“When the school-bus driving students saw that, and heard the screams of the children on the bus, they said they would never forget it for the rest of their lives,” Stricek said. “They’ll look both ways before going on a green light.”

Lee County installed Florida’s first simulator specifically designed for ambulance-driving training in October. County commissioners have approved installation of another to train ambulance drivers.

Lee County Emergency Medical services employs 232 paramedics and emergency medical technicians and responded to more than 70,000 emergency calls in 2006.

“The first simulator cost $203,000, most of it a state grant,” said David Kainrad, Emergency Medical Services administrative manager. “The second cost $158,000. It came 100 percent from a state grant.”

Installed at Edison College’s Fort Myers campus, the simulator serves college classes as well as emergency services new hires and veterans for driving certification.

Edison College is authorized by the state to train emergency providers, including emergency medical technicians and paramedics for Southwest Florida. About 150 paramedics and 250 EMTs train at Edison annually.

Meant to supplement the usual training in a real ambulance, the simulator is a tool in the Emergency Vehicle Operating Certification process.

“Years ago they gave us the keys and said, ‘Go to it,’” said Lt. Chris Powell, a 23-year emergency services veteran. “Hopefully we will be able to train people to avoid accidents with this tool.”

Powell became one of the first five to train on the simulator as instructors. Along with class lectures on driving, the simulator provides hands-on experience, before a student moves to the real ambulance.

The simulator ambulance comes equipped like a typical 14-foot-long, 8-foot-wide, 15,000-pound ambulance, complete with flashing lights, siren, air-brake sound effects and a two-seat cockpit.

The seats look out on two, 65-inch, high-resolution monitors as front windows. The side windows, complete with adjustable mirrors, have two, 42-inch plasma monitors, which show a rear-view on split-screen.

The simulator also has about 150 road scenarios that it can run through. A driver and his instructor can start with a simple program of weaving through cones and progress to heavy traffic with street signals, pedestrians crossing the road, and treacherous weather with torrential rain.

If a student follows his radioed instructions to a plane crash at the airport and overcompensates when turning on the rain slicked road, the ambulance skitters across the road and over the curb. Inside the cockpit every slide, bump and crash is felt.

They are also recorded. It can be viewed from an overhead view or straight on.

A computer printout provides instructors and students with information on speed, accuracy and safety.

The simulation spares the gas and wear and tear on real ambulances’ tires and other running equipment.

Each student’s efforts can be observed by a class sitting directly behind the simulator. That can’t be done in an actual ambulance training exercise.

“The simulator allows us to refine our emergency vehicles training so that we have a safe, efficient drive to and from the hospital,” said emergency service Capt. Art Garcia, lead instructor and quality supervisor. “The simulator provides a simulated driving experience before actually getting into the vehicle. It will also allow paramedic and EMT students an opportunity to get early exposure to the principles of driving an emergency vehicle.”

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