Driving simulator helps train Idaho fire recruits
Situated in a long, enclosed tractor-trailer, the simulator is intended to give new recruits experience driving large emergency vehicles without any risk
Moscow-Pullman Daily News, Moscow, Idaho
MOSCOW, Idaho — After having sole access to a state-of-the-art driving simulator for the better part of a week, the Moscow Volunteer Fire Department is already making plans to bring the equipment back in 2020.
Situated in a long, enclosed tractor-trailer, the simulator is from the College of Eastern Idaho’s Fire Service Technology program and is intended to give new recruits experience driving large emergency vehicles without any risk.
MVFD Training Captain Scott Williams said the college purchased the trailer with a federal grant explicitly to train firefighters throughout the state.
He said the program is so popular the simulator is booked through September.
Williams said it takes about 40 to 60 hours of continuous training to prepare a new driver for the road. A driver must not only be safe and conscious of the dimensions of the vehicle, he said they must also be prepared to respond to an emergency call even while in traffic.
“When you’re driving an apparatus ... you have a lot of stuff on your plate, you can’t be concerned about turning the radio down, about somebody on their phone,” Williams said. “You’ve got all this information that’s coming in over the radio, you’re dealing with the public, you’ve got traffic to deal with — it’s a lot to do very, very fast.”
The space inside the trailer includes two driver seats on each end surrounded by flat-screen monitors.
One simulates ambulances and similarly sized vehicles while the other is designed to resemble the inside of large fire engines.
Alongside the steering column are air vents, stereo controls and cup holders.
When a driver twists the key in the ignition, the entire station physically thrums to life — it also vibrates and yanks on the steering wheel when it encounters a virtual curb or obstruction.
While training drivers, Williams said he can even simulate unorthodox scenarios like blowing out a tire on the rig while it’s in a turn or other drivers behaving unpredictably. In one memorable scenario, a pedestrian sprints in front of the virtual fire engine just as the light turns green.
“This has got about 100 different scenarios in it — everything from just daily driving to responding (with) lights and sirens,” he said. “What this enables us to do is we can work with drivers before we turn them loose in a $150,000 ambulance or a $550,000 fire engine.”
When a test-taker concludes a drive scenario, the program prints a score sheet and a human monitor in the trailer can also offer guidance based on what they observed.
There are a multitude of potential problem areas for new recruits who have never driven a large vehicle before, Williams said, including getting used to the acceleration and stopping time of a 40,000-pound rig.
Other challenges include keeping both hands on the wheel at all times, using mirrors and being aware of larger blind spots and the boxy turning radius of a vehicle where the driver sits atop the wheel wells rather than behind.
MVFD Chief Brian Nickerson said it may seem counterintuitive, but in an emergency, patience is often key. He said even with lights and sirens blaring, a driver is usually only able to about reach the speed limit and must be on high alert not to cause an accident — which would only exacerbate an already critical situation, while slowing their response time.
“You just can’t do enough training whether it’s driving, hose-line deployment — it doesn’t matter,” Nickerson said. “Any training that we do, we’ll always continue to refine and get better and this is a great tool.”
©2019 the Moscow-Pullman Daily News (Moscow, Idaho)