Paramedics from across the province converged on Perth County to take part in a virtual reality simulation competition designed to help test and develop their skills.
“It's a world first,” said Craig Calver, a paramedic and CEO of VR Solutions, a company that links first responders with virtual reality technology as a training tool.
He founded the business four years ago after the devastating 2012 collision in front of Calver's home in Hampstead, Ont. He rushed out to help at the scene, and the tragedy taught him some important lessons.
“I realized then that there's a lot of shortcomings in the current training we have,” he said. “I thought 'how could I better prepare myself or my coworkers for these sort of incidents?'”
Virtual reality was the answer Calver and his team landed on.
The competition on Friday showcased lots of cutting-edge technology, simulating emergency situations like a dramatic crash scene or a distraught mother with a sick baby. Sixteen teams from Ottawa to Windsor competed.
“They're really enjoying it, because it's so different. It's not like anything they've ever done before,” said Hillary Henderson, deputy commander with Perth EMS and a key organizer for the event.
It's also the perfect environment in which to train for some of the greatest tests a paramedic will face on the job.
“It's very difficult to do a multi-casualty incident (MCI),” said Linda Rockwood, chief of Perth County Emergency Services. “This gives the opportunity for everyone to be that triage officer, one of the most difficult roles (at an MCI).”
Multiple or mass casualty incidents are one of the most challenging tests to simulate, especially since it takes so many individuals to act as victims in a training exercise.
Enter virtual reality.
“One of the stations, the crews go in and it's a rail accident. There's 20 plus patients, and they go into the virtual environment and walk through it and navigate it as they would,” Calver said.
Many chiefs and deputy chiefs who acted as judges at the competition expressed interest in bringing the technology to their own service for a similar event, he added.
“These guys have done an amazing job,” said Rockwood. “It's an incredible day, it's something new.”
Niagara paramedic Tracy Groszeibl said the virtual reality is so helpful for training because it creates a realistic, immersive environment.
“This gives you experience and also seeing where the dangerous are and how to avoid them – you actually have the visual of something on fire,” she said.
Some of the simulations – like the interactions with an anxious victim or bystander – would be really helpful for newer paramedics, Groszeibl added.
“A lot of people when they're first starting out in this business, to be able to talk to somebody (can be difficult). It gives you lots of feedback, and the way it changes based on your questions – if you start heading the wrong way, he'll give you responses where you can tell you're agitating him,” she said.
Interpersonal skills and the ability to spot clues of danger are hard to teach. These virtual reality simulations can really help model the real-life situations that help paramedics learn, Groszeibl said.
“It's very helpful,” she said.
“It's training us in areas that we can't train very well.”