Rhodes State College, in Lima, Ohio, opened its in-classroom ambulance simulator, which is a major component of its EMS education program, about a year ago, and it already is having a significant impact.
The college worked with nearby Life Star Rescue, an ambulance manufacturer that also does remounts, on the project. Instead of a remount, Life Star ultimately decided to build an ambulance from scratch right into classroom space that had been created for this purpose during a previous renovation. The $60,000 total project cost was defrayed in part by dual $8,000 grants from two local hospitals, Lima Memorial and St. Rita’s Medical Center.
In the end, Rhodes received a simulator that is capable of doing just about everything an ambulance is capable of doing. Into that simulator was placed a programmable medical mannequin that lets instructors replicate a wide range of situations that EMTs and paramedics face in the field. Once in the ambulance, the students are on their own after the doors close. Because the simulator is equipped with video cameras and the students are miked, instructors can monitor their every movement, conversation and decision. The realism afforded by Rhodes’ ambulance simulator is invaluable, said Joe Kitchen, chief of the Bath Township (Ohio) Fire Department and the chair of the college’s EMS advisory committee. “It helps these paramedics to hit the ground running,” Kitchen said. “They’re ready to go out on the street. You’d hate to hire a paramedic who’s never worked in the back of an ambulance significantly. This puts them in that environment, so they can make better decisions and feel more comfortable.”
Roughly 40 students have shared the experience since the simulator opened for business. One of those is Jeff Jones, a career firefighter/EMT for the Shawnee Township (Ohio) Fire Department, who said the repetition provided by the simulator is the key to its effectiveness as a training tool.
"We can practice codes for hours on end, and get ourselves to the point where it becomes so much second nature,” Jones said. “That’s what you want. When you go to a code out here in the real world, you want it to be something that’s smooth.”
Jones added that just because students are working in a simulator — which means they know their mistakes won’t kill anybody — doesn’t mean that the experience isn’t stressful. He agreed that it is analogous to walking a tightrope knowing that a safety net is below — even with the net in place, the fall is still scary.
"When you have someone’s life in your hands, regardless of whether it is on the street or in a simulator, it’s still stressful, because you know that whatever you are doing in the simulator, you’re going to be doing it down the road on an actual person,” Jones said. “You know that once you’re out in the real world, that safety net is gone.”
That’s the whole idea, said Lisa Nickles, chair of Rhodes’ EMS education program.
"Working without a net, when someone’s life is dependent on it — not your own, someone else — I think is the scariest thing in the world. And that’s what medics do every day,” Nickles said. “They don’t have a doctor standing over them, telling them what medication to give. Nurses have that — we don’t. We have our protocols, but some of that is really gray. You have to make judgments, and that’s scary.”
For an expanded version of this story, see the August issue of Fire Chief.