|Chris Mc Loone|
I never had the opportunity to stop, though, for a couple of reasons. First, there was always a line; and second, I was always on my way somewhere else for a meeting and couldn’t stop to wait in line or, even if there wasn’t one, go through the simulation.
That changed recently, and I got myself into the driver’s seat of a rig. This magazine has covered driving simulators in the past, but now I can say I’ve actually gone through one and can say confidently that these are very valuable training tools.
Although I wouldn’t call myself skeptical about simulators providing a realistic driving environment, I was still surprised at how authentic it felt. Yes, the screens I was viewing were graphical, but regardless, the way these work, you really do feel like you are in motion.
As I began the simulation, I was driving down a street thinking, “Well, this isn’t as hard as I thought it was going to be.” But, as soon as I thought that, I remembered what one of the engineering officers at my company said when he took me out driver training for the first time: “Anyone can drive these trucks forward.” He was right. And in the case of this simulator, driving backward during the EVOC component provided the most realistic look and feel of driving and was the most difficult to accomplish.
I passed the backup test, but it wasn’t all roses for me as I went through the different scenarios. Yes, I used my turn signal when I should have and got some points for that from the instructor. But, there was also that time when I went off the road a little bit. And, then there was that other time when I just missed an oncoming vehicle, causing the instructor to exclaim, “How you didn’t hit that car I’ll never know.” Right there is the true value of these simulators.
Apparatus operation is a relatively simple concept: Get in vehicle. Drive to scene. Operate vehicle. Go back to station. Back in. Get out of vehicle. That concept hasn’t changed since horse-drawn steamers. Apparatus has changed, and these vehicles are more complex today than they were back in the day. Driving them, however, has always been a challenge.
One could say they are easier to drive today, and that might be true. Power steering, cameras, and larger mirrors do help. But, vehicles today are bigger. They are heavier and take longer to stop. So, the challenges are still there, as are the chances that during routine driver training something could go wrong and people could get hurt.
When I nearly clipped one vehicle that didn’t go where I thought it would, I thought about it being a real car. Maybe a mom and an infant in a car seat are riding in it. If she swerves to miss the apparatus and hits another vehicle or hits the apparatus because she was unsure of the driver’s intention, the potential for civilian injuries is high, not to mention damage to both vehicles being in the thousands of dollars to repair. With a driving simulator, we reduce the chances of getting into accidents during training.
Also remember that the apparatus isn’t out of service while training if you use a simulator.
Like many activities, there is nothing like the real thing when driving a fire apparatus. Driving one at nonemergency speed is one thing; driving one with lights and sirens is another. I can still remember my foot bouncing up and down on the accelerator because I was so nervous driving for the first time to a fire. Thinking back to my driver training days, I recall a great piece of advice from the chief engineer: Always make sure other drivers know what you are going to do. To my way of thinking, as long as you remember that, whether you learned using a simulator or out on the road, you’re going to be a successful apparatus operator.