Chris Gregory
KU Edwards Campus

KU Fire & Rescue Training Institute adds driving simulator

Thu, 04/13/2017

LAWRENCE — Firefighters across Kansas can now receive expanded emergency vehicle driving training from the Kansas Fire & Rescue Training Institute, part of the University of Kansas Professional and Continuing Education unit. Firefighters will use a new simulator to learn driving techniques to keep themselves and their communities safe. A grant from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security provided the majority of the funding for the new equipment.

“A fire department will be able to train the members of the department without the cost of fuel and reducing the maintenance of the equipment,” said Pat Talkington, captain of Lawrence-Douglas County Fire Medical. “There is also the safety aspect of using the simulator. An individual can obtain driving experience in the relative safety of the simulator without driving on the road.”

According to the National Fire Protection Association, vehicle crashes cause 12 percent of on-duty firefighter fatalities in the U.S. 

“Whether in response to an emergency or not, driving in the line of duty is one of the most dangerous parts of firefighting,” said Glenn Pribbenow, director of the Kansas Fire & Rescue Training Institute. “Naturally our first priority is the safety of people in the community and the firefighters, as well as property. The new simulator adds many realistic situations and factors to the training that are too dangerous or expensive to create in field training.”

A large trailer houses the simulator, allowing it to travel to fire departments across Kansas. The simulator uses physical controls such as a steering wheel and foot pedals in combination with visual computer-generated scenarios, conditions, types of roads and vehicle-handling characteristics. It simulates the experience of driving various types of fire trucks as well as an SUV, pick-up truck, ambulance and police car. This offers trainees the opportunity to learn tactical driving skills to handle vehicles with different acceleration speeds, braking distances, turning radiuses and more.

The Kansas Fire & Rescue Training Institute recently took possession of the new equipment and will complete instructor training in April 2017. Following that, the Kansas Fire & Rescue Training Institute will offer regional training sessions to state, county and municipal firefighters.

Members of Lawrence-Douglas County Fire Medical joined the Kansas Fire & Rescue Training Institute instructors in the initial training from the simulator manufacturer.

“The simulator allows firefighters to drive large, expensive trucks in a virtual world without the risk of damage on the open road,” said Earl Barnes, lieutenant of Lawrence-Douglas County Fire Medical’s Training Division. “It also teaches muscle memory for new driving techniques and can fix bad habits before they begin. More experienced drivers will benefit from the simulator by sharpening skills that haven’t been used in a while. This saves departments time and money, along with wear and tear on the engines and tires.”

Procurement of the new equipment began in 2015 with extensive preparation for and submission of the application to the Assistance to Firefighters Grant from the Department of Homeland Security. The grant funded $391,305 of the total investment of about $500,000 for the simulator, heavy-duty truck used to pull the trailer housing it and instructor training.

“With this simulator, we can put firefighters across Kansas and beyond in intensive, effective learning environments without putting them in danger or suffering the expense of a wrecked fire truck,” said Pribbenow.

The Kansas Fire & Rescue Training Institute is the state-designated fire academy created by Kansas law in 1949. It is funded in part by a portion of the fire insurance premium tax assessed on homeowner insurance in Kansas.

“Our role is to prepare firefighters for the rigors of their job,” said Pribbenow, now in his 20th year with the Kansas Fire & Rescue Training Institute. “Their job is to be heroes, to put themselves in harm’s way to help others. Our job is to equip them with the skills and knowledge to do it safely and successfully.”

Top photo: The Kansas Fire & Rescue Training Institute’s new mobile emergency driving simulator is housed in a trailer and pulled by a heavy-duty pickup. The simulator can travel to location across Kansas to train firefighters in safe emergency-response driving tactics in a variety of vehicles and situations.

At right: Lt. Earl Barnes of Lawrence-Douglas County Fire Medical Department trains on the new emergency driving simulator. The Kansas Fire & Rescue Training Institute’s simulator allows firefighters to acquire or improve driving skills in a range of different scenarios and vehicles. Vehicle crashes account for 12 percent of on-duty firefighter fatalities nationwide.

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