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La Plata County fire districts explore virtual reality

Study tests whether new technology improves skills
An Arvada Fire Protection District staff member participates in virtual reality training. Fire districts in Arvada, Ignacio and Bayfield have joined a study to test virtual training for emergency services.

Two La Plata County fire departments are trying out a new way to train: virtual reality.

Los Pinos and Upper Pine River fire protection districts, and an Arvada fire agency, are participating in a study to test virtual reality clinical training. The technology could help address common challenges with doing training in rural fire departments, such as time, cost and labor constraints.

“We wanted to take part to see, one, if it would be something we would want to implement, and also if virtual reality would enhance the way we can present trainings to staff,” said Joshua Lorenzen, Los Pinos deputy chief.

The study, launched by Health Scholars, a medical technology company, will see whether virtual reality training is a more effective teaching tool than traditional training.

The study focuses on working with kids. Children account for a small percentage of pre-hospital emergencies, but they also have physiological differences that can mask early indicators of severe illness and make resuscitation difficult to manage, according to a Health Scholars news release Tuesday.

“Unless providers are practicing pediatric assessment frequently, the nuance and critical skills needed to effectively assess and treat a child will decay over time,” said Brian Gillett, a doctor and president of Health Scholars, in the news release. “This study marks an important effort to measure what happens when location, time and availability of in-person training for EMS providers are no longer challenges.”

Pediatric emergency preparedness training can be difficult to prioritize among EMS, especially in rural fire agencies, because it can be time-consuming, costly and labor-intensive, according to Health Scholars.

Or training might take place during business hours, when volunteer EMS providers in rural districts might have conflicts with their day jobs.

“Because of the way it’s structured, they can come in on their own time or in the evenings and participate in the training made available,” Lorenzen said. Los Pinos will complete its portion of the study by the end of April.

Participating in the study will help local districts understand how to integrate virtual reality training into their current programs, said Bruce Evans, Upper Pine fire chief.

“The goal is to better prepare our front lines for pediatric emergencies, which helps to strengthen the whole community,” Evans said in the news release.

The study is funded by the National Institute of Standards and Technology as part of the public safety innovation accelerator program.

smullane@durangoherald.com

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