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Fire Agencies With Driver Simulator Program Enjoy Increased Efficiencies Officials Cite Reduced Overtime, Time Savings as Collateral Benefits to Simulator Training

Agencies With Driver Simulator Program Enjoy Increased Efficiencies
Officials Cite Reduced Overtime, Time Savings as Collateral Benefits to Simulator Training

In a recessed economy, fire departments that use simulation for driver training are enjoying the benefits of reduced costs and increased uptime for personnel and apparatus, which creates an efficiency that benefits both the department and taxpayers.

Driver training simulators are well-known for increasing judgment and decision-making skills, but the logistical benefits in a tight economy are now being realized by agencies using simulation. Some of the benefits include:

– Reduced wear and tear on physical apparatus
– Maximizing the amount of ‘seat time’ for students
– Keeping overtime costs down for personnel in driver training classes
– Eliminating the issue of a lack of available training ground
– Consistency of training
– Minimizing fuel consumption and increasing the ‘green’ factor in a driver training program

The San Bernardino County (CA) Fire Department uses three driving simulators in a mobile classroom to deliver training where and when it is needed so it can maintain the efficiency of the divisions and stations within the county. San Bernardino’s simulators were purchased from FAAC Incorporated in 2009 and consist of three five-screen ER-1500s with motion seats. In addition, San Bernardino uses the optional Tiller Package to conduct training classes for tiller crews.

“The students I am putting through the simulator course right now are duty crews, so I am driving the mobile classroom to different divisions and setting it up so I don’t have to pull them off active duty for training,” said Capt. Jeff Birchfield. “Because I set up in their district, if they get a call while they are in training they can leave, respond to the call, then resume training later.

“San Bernardino is the largest county in the United States, and if the simulator classroom was placed in a central location students would have to drive up to three hours to get to the training site.” The county encompasses more than 20,000 square miles.

2,600 miles away, Lt. Tim Jones of the District of Columbia Fire Department prepares for another class of new recruits.

Jones’ simulator classroom is not mobile, but resides in the middle of the fire academy training ground. That proximity to his cone course enables him to interchange simulator and real vehicle, flexibility that increases his efficiency working with recruit classes.

“The more I can do inside on a simulator the less I have to do outside and burn fuel,” Jones said. “Having the simulators helps make us more green because it saves about 50 gallons of diesel fuel per day, and it saves me two days per rookie class.”

The DCFD simulator classroom consists of three FAAC simulators – one for fire apparatus training (seven visual screens with mirrors), one for ambulance training (seven visual screens with mirrors), and one for tiller training (six visual screens with mirrors). The tiller simulator has screens along the ground on either side of the driver compartment so the student can look down to place his or her apparatus with a curb line.

Jones said the simulator room, combined with the computer-based training and EVOC lecture courses purchased from FAAC, has increased efficiency by decreasing the number of rookies who return to his training program due to collisions. The amount of educational material, and the pace at which it is delivered, has increased. And content retention seems to have increased because Jones said the number of recruits in remedial training has declined.

Computer-based training modules and the EVOC lecture focus on vehicle maintenance, apparatus physics, defensive driving principles and techniques, and intersection navigation. The classroom content, combined with simulator work and the training ground provide Jones with a powerful three-pronged training class.

He added some of the rookies he works with have never driven a vehicle larger than a small passenger car. The simulator enables Jones to not only teach young drivers the physics of handling large apparatus, but judgment and decision-making as well. His training can go deeper than if he had only real apparatus to use. And because the simulator room is so close to his cone course, he can teach a lesson in the simulator and immediately send the student out to reinforce the knowledge on a real vehicle. He had found that this combination is powerful for learner retention of new skills.

Both Birchfield and Jones have efficient training programs because they can teach up to three different types of student at the same time. Each simulator can contain a different lesson plan, so three different types of students can learn next to each other but in their own driving environment. For example, Student A can get instruction on and practice apparatus handling characteristics. Student B can receive instruction and practice on safely moving through busy intersections, and Student C can work through a lesson plan on tiller handling.

Still others appreciate the depth of training that can be performed in a simulated setting, which creates efficiency in the driver through experience to high-risk low-frequency driving hazards.

Enabling students to drive Code 3 through a busy intersection is not something that can be practiced in a real setting, said Rob Raheb, FAAC emergency response specialist and former Fire Department of New York lieutenant and EVOC officer.

“Because of simulation training our students started to grasp concepts faster, reducing the amount of time needed behind the wheel,” Raheb said. “Simulation training gave us the capability to teach knowledge, skills and judgment – what I call the Triangle of Training. Because of this Triangle methodology, we were able to greatly reduce the number of intersection collisions that we were experiencing.”

“The cost savings from just one of those collisions is immeasurable, and it is directly related to the powerful training that simulation provides.”

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