Basically, Robby has been dreaming of this for a couple of years. They have simulators available, for $30,000 to $40,000. He came to me and said, ‘Can you build it?’ Then he brought me some blueprints.-— Dennis Baucom
As the gas cap illustrates, no detail was spared in creating an ambulance simulator for SPCC’s EMS students. The same attention to detail went into the inside of the simulator, which is actually an ambulance that was stripped apart and rebuilt inside the classroom.
“We’ve put everything in here an ambulance would have — oxygen, a vacuum pump system,” Baucom said.
“It actually gives them the look of a real ambulance to practice in prior to going to clinical,” Smith said. “Another benefit is they’re learning to work within their space restraints. Paramedic students are used to working with large tables to put in IVs. There are actually documented studies that show when you put students in the environment, with pictures and noises, it will increase their adrenaline and cause stress.”
The simulator has that, with a 23-minute looping video, complete with siren blaring, on a screen where the cab would be that gives the impression the ambulance is traveling down the road.
There is also a camera mounted in the ambulance that allows students in an adjacent classroom to watch, on a monitor, what’s going on. Jackson, SPCC’s high-fidelity training mannequin, is on a stretcher in the ambulance. A computer connected to Jackson allows Smith to create scenarios and have the students respond accordingly, or a two-way radio allows Smith to pretend he is at the hospital, giving instructions to the paramedic students as they are en route.
The simulator also allows for better training in what might seem like simple tasks — like lifting a stretcher into the ambulance with a body on it. In a recent class, the students took turns being “the body” and found out what it feels like to be lifted off the ground and pushed into the back of an ambulance.
Robby Smith, SPCC’s Emergency Medical Services coordinator, sits in the back of the ambulance simulator with Jackson, the school’s high-fidelity training mannequin. At the back a video is playing that gives the appearance of looking through the cab as the ambulance travels down the road.
Smith noted that even professional EMS workers have been impressed by the simulator. “They say, ‘this is really neat,’” he said.
How the simulator came to be is a story in itself. Smith and former EMS Coordinator Chris Johnson discussed having one before Johnson died of cancer in 2007.
“Basically, Robby has been dreaming of this for a couple of years,” Baucom said. “They have simulators available, for $30,000 to $40,000. He came to me and said, ‘Can you build it?’ He brought me some blueprints.”
Baucom thought that he could, but before he got to that point, a friend of Smith’s alerted him to a pediatric ambulance without an engine that had been sitting at First Class Emergency Vehicles in Charlotte for five years. “They said we can have it,” Baucom said.
Over a period of seven to eight weeks, Baucom, Smith and Vocational Trades Instructor Terry James stripped the ambulance down and rebuilt it in the classroom. Baucom and James framed up walls, raised the floor and then rebuilt the ambulance around their framework. “We covered the outside with aluminum coil,” Baucom said. “We put screws along it to give it a rivet effect. We tried to make it look as much like an ambulance as possible.”
They put cabinets back inside the ambulance and covered them with vinyl. They had to brace a grab bar attached to the ambulance ceiling to the top of the building. The flooring is the same as what would be in an ambulance. Even the exterior flashing lights work.
“We had about $1,500 in materials,” Baucom said. “Versus 30 or 40 grand? I think it worked out pretty good.”
Future plans include taking three offices around the corner from the simulator and converting them into a simulated living room, bedroom and bathroom. Once those renovations are complete, EMS students will have to pick up “patients” in the type of environment where they might find them, put them on the stretcher, wheel them to the ambulance and load them up.
“You can buy commercial ambulance simulators for training purposes,” Smith said. “This is the real thing.”
Jim Muldrow is Marketing and Communications Coordinator at South Piedmont Community College, with campuses in Union and Anson counties in North Carolina.