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Using Fire and EMS Simulation Training to Address the Emergency Responder Shortage

 

Firefighters are expecting 2021 to be a record-breaking year for building and wildfires. But fire teams are shorthanded and overworked nationwide. This isn’t just about the increasing length and intensity of the wildfire season—nor is it about COVID. Both play a role, but it’s one of intensifying an existing problem:

We are an aging (and increasingly dispersed) population with a national shortage of EMTs and a long-term trend in decreasing interest in volunteer firefighting.

These chronic shortages have lead to 911 centers with no one to answer the phones, delays in response, and rationed care. In Wake County, North Carolina, EMT shortages have translated into ambulances delayed up to 20 minutes:

“When only five ambulances are available, medical choices are made. [Wake County EMS public information officer Brian] Brooks said EMS dispatch will triage calls based on standard medical priorities.”

Milwaukee has attempted to cope with their shortages by coordinating public and private resources. But that solution has been plagued by gaps and failures that have brought it to a crossroads. An analysis this past spring found that one of the three private ambulance services serving the city failed to take 65% of calls they were sent. To take up the slack, the fire department has been responding to roughly 1,000 “lower-level” calls each month—which has, in turn, meant slower response times for all calls. At least one of the private EMS providers has since canceled their contract and pulled out of the city.

 

Addressing the Shortfall with EMS Simulation Training

In some areas (such as Indiana and Tennessee—a state that faces a 70% shortfall in EMTs) they’re addressing the EMT/fire shortfall by training high schoolers to immediately move into positions as responders after graduation. In others, smaller rural volunteer departments are increasingly banding together to offer mutual aid.

But as Milwaukee has demonstrated, these collaborations and fast-track training pushes aren’t a solution by themselves. EMT training courses have notoriously high drop-out rates, just as EMS as a whole has a high burnout rate. And coordinating across volunteer or public/private organizations creates huge communications challenges.

Many agencies adopt solutions like FAAC’s EMS simulation platform specifically because it allows them to increase training throughput and increasing training complexity while reducing wash-out rates.

Training more responders more quickly is an excellent use of simulator technology because it allows quick repeats of specific tasks. This is especially good for working on some of the fundamentals that most often trip up and frustrate new vehicle operators, like pivot point comprehension. It also allows trainees to safely train in all seasons for all seasons, without risk of injury or equipment damage, and without tying up active resources.

Advanced immersive interactive EMS simulation solutions like RESPONSE and FAAC’s comprehensive Continuum of Training add an entirely new dimension. These are extremely engaging training environments that allow responders to work on more than just core skills.  Such “human interaction simulators” prepare responders for the communications, coordination, and emotional challenges of their work, building the vital “soft skills” we need in an emergency.