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Conn. town implements virtual reality training for firefighters, EMS providers

The training system provides a variety of simulations for first responders, such as heart attacks, burns, childbirth, lacerations, broken bones and overdoses

By Eric Bedner
Journal Inquirer, Manchester, Conn.

VERNON, Conn. — With a new generation of first responders and students growing up in a world of cutting-edge video games, a new tool takes virtual reality to the next level — to provide training and real-world scenarios to prepare them for potentially life-threatening situations.

The town and school district are partnering with East Hartford -based VRSim in the launch of VRNA EMS, a new training system for emergency medical technicians, police officers, firefighters, and schoolchildren that immerses users in a computer simulation.

Vernon is the first municipality in the country to use VRSim’s most recent technology, CEO and President Matthew Wallace said, but six more states are expected to join by the end of the month.

The training system, which compliments traditional textbooks and training exercises, provides a variety of simulations for first responders, such as heart attacks, burns, childbirth, lacerations, broken bones, and overdoses.

Along with first responders, Vernon intends to use the technology to help teach Rockville High School students in the allied health and fire technology programs.

“I think the possibilities are endless,” Mayor Dan Champagne said. “Training and refresher training are important in any public safety organization and we are always in search of creative and innovative solutions to meet today’s ever-changing public safety challenges.”

Virtual reality training is already in use in Vernon schools, such as for virtual dissections, Superintendent Joseph Macary said, adding that “virtual technology systems are the next evolution of teaching for all learners.”

The roughly $8,000 virtual reality unit consists of a small computer, headset, and handheld controllers that are currently located at Fire Station No. 1 on Hartford Turnpike but can easily be transported throughout town.

Town Administrator and Director of Emergency and Risk Management Michael Purcaro said that the town plans to partner with other communities in the future to conduct regional training for otherwise extremely costly exercises, such as mass casualty events.

“To be able to carry out such an exercise with multiple players in multiple places simultaneously would greatly enhance preparedness training across the region, state, and nation,” he said. “This game-changing technology exponentially enhances EMTs’ and emergency medical responders’ capabilities.”

One goal, Wallace said, is to make critical training more accessible to attract a skilled first responder workforce.

During a demonstration Wednesday at the fire station, the training simulation showed step-by-step what first responders should be doing when faced with certain situations.

The program provides real-time instruction and feedback for each action taken, such as going too fast or too slow when doing chest compressions during CPR in the cardiac arrest simulation. The data collected is then examined by the student and their teacher to determine what is done correctly and which areas need improvement.

Grading follows the same standards as the national EMS education standards, Wallace said.

“It’s like a modern apprenticeship,” he said. “It’s going to be on the front edge of education.”

Wallace said that since the technology runs on WiFi, it can be updated immediately, noting that the next generation of first responders are growing up with burgeoning technology and are more used to it than others.


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