When Alexis Battista was training to be a paramedic, it was rare for her to be permitted to help out when a patient was in real trouble. It was simply too risky to let a trainee practice in such high pressure circumstances.
"You usually got shoved out of the way when it was really serious," said Battista.
The only other practice she got was on "Fred the Head," the rubber mannequin used in training exercises. While this training certainly provided her with the necessary skills to become a paramedic, she knows it does not compare to the type of training that is currently offered at the Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Emergency Medical Services (EMS) Training Simulation Center in McLean.
Although it has been in use for some time, the EMS Training Simulation Center celebrated its official opening this month. The 4,000 sq. ft. facility features an ambulance simulator and training rooms with Sim Man and Sim Baby, full-body mannequins that are controlled remotely and are able to breathe and speak. Battista is the Education Coordinator at the facility, and as such, she gets to see the advantages of its state-of-the-art equipment first hand.
"By having this kind of technology, it allows the instructors to get out of the way," said Battista. "It puts us in an environment where people can work in a group and where it's basically risk free. They can work on a patient or a case that they've never done before."
PRIOR TO CONSTRUCTION of the Training Simulation Center, the Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department sent trainees to separate college campuses such as George Washington University and Northern Virginia Community College. Now, all training is done in one location, and permanent staff has been hired.
"We have a full time Education Coordinator, three clinical specialists, six lieutenants and two captains," said Capt. Keith Ludeman.
Ludeman said that the driving principle behind the facility is “learn the most through experience.” Trainees respond to pre-programmed situations while instructors watch via video monitor in a separate command room. When the exercise is completed, the trainees are able to watch the video re-play and pinpoint both positive and negative actions.
"The simulation center allows us to simulate real life situations," said Ludeman. "The Sim Man can simulate the movements, sounds and vital signs of a real human."
According to Battista, the realistic environment combined with the Sim mannequins is very effective.
"It's not so much that we have the Sim Man and Sim Baby as it is how we use them," said Battista. "Sixty seconds into the case and they kind of forget that they're here. They really buy into it."