Chesterton Tribune



The feel of the wheel: Chesterton Fire Department trains on simulator

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Turns out, it’s much harder to brake an eight-ton fire engine than it is the family minivan.

That’s the main takeaway from the 10 minutes a Chesterton Tribune reporter spent on a simulator currently on loan to the Chesterton Fire Department.

For the record, the reporter managed to avoid colliding with other vehicles on the road as well as with a woman and dog standing outside a burning house. He did scrape the side of a narrow stone bridge, however.

And that’s pretty much the point of the simulator, Deputy Fire Chief Nate Williams told the Trib. “If you crash a $500,000 fire engine in a simulator, you can hit reload and try again,” he said. “If you crash that vehicle in the real world, the town loses an important safety vehicle.”

The simulator was made temporarily available to the CFD by Bliss McKnight Inc., the Town of Chesterton’s contracted risk management firm, and for the last week has proved a popular stop not only for firefighters but also police officers. The device--which resembles a video game only much larger and fully immersive, with wing screens on the side for rearview imaging--features something like 200 different scenarios for a variety of emergency vehicles, in different driving conditions: engines, ladders trucks, ambulances, and squad cars; in clear weather, rain, snow, or fog, at high noon or at midnight; on cramped city streets, winding country roads, and in serpentining subdivisions.

CFD Capt. Tony Coslet, who was good enough to give the Trib reporter a crack at the simulator, said that all of the department’s crew members have been rotating through it, each spending about an hour behind the wheel. “More than an hour kind of messes with your equilibrium. It can give you motion sickness. Your eyes tell you you’re moving but your inner ear says you’re just sitting. The funny thing is, the younger guys who grew up playing video games have had an easier time on the simulator than us older guys.”

In virtually every way, Coslet noted, the simulator duplicates the experience of operating a large piece of fire apparatus, down to the dash board, the feel of the wheel, the shriek of the siren, the grumble of the engine. “Just like in real life, people don’t pull over for us. You’ll get motorists dodging both ways, running red lights, and we have to compensate for that.”

Compensate too for the sheer bulk of the engine. “Covering the brakes, the proper stopping distance: our vehicles are big and heavy and have to stop sooner and slower,” Coslet added.

Even so, Williams said, the simulator is still just that, a simulator which can only simulate. “Although it provides good training, we determined that the computer follows a program and has set variables,” he said. “In real life, the world around us changes and isn’t dictated by a computer program. The other vehicles in the simulated world drive according to a program and don’t always respond as a human-driven vehicle would.”

Yet, having said that, Williams expressed his gratitude to Bliss McKnight. “Participants feel it’s provided them an invaluable opportunity to experience real-life response challenges without the consequences involved in driving expensive real vehicles. The training we’ve received has really benefited all personnel regardless of prior ability.”


Posted 1/31/2017





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