Officials: Driving simulator to aid in public safety training

ALBANY, Ga: Public safety officials will no longer have to risk damage to actual vehicles in order to get training on advanced driving scenarios thanks to a sales tax purchase that will allow city and county first responders to train on a sophisticated driving simulator.

The purchase, $300,000 from SPLOST V, was originally bought with the intent to adequately train fire truck drivers without risking damage to the $400,000 trucks, Albany Fire Chief James Carswell said.

"Right now, our relief drivers train using all the reading materials and practical training they can get, but we can't just let them practice a 10-18 (emergency) driving call and go speeding through the city," Carswell said. "That would obviously pose a danger to them, the public and the equipment."

"So what ends up happening is that they go through the training and if they complete it successfully, we just wait for the next emergency call that comes into the station and hope that the training sticks," Carswell said.

The simulator, which is essentially a mock-up of the cab of a fire engine with a sophisticated, wrap-around array of computer monitors, allows those administering the training to simulate various scenarios that a driver might face out on the road without actually risking any damage to vehicles or personnel.

While a trainee is behind the wheel, for instance, Carswell says that the training officer could hit a button to make a car-door swing out from a car parked on a narrow street, or change weather conditions to accommodate for rain and wind, or even send a car through a red light to gauge the driver's reaction.

"It allows for a more practical measure of the driver's reactions to various scenarios that we just wouldn't be able to go out and safely create outside the stations," Carswell said.

While the program was purchased with the fire department in mind and will be housed at the AFD"s multi-purpose training facility off of Honeysuckle Drive, the simulator will come with multiple packages that will allow other agencies like the Albany Police Department, Dougherty County Police and the Dougherty County Sheriff's office, to use it to train their officers as well.

In fact, Carswell said that he envisions opening it up for use across multiple platforms from city transit bus drivers to school system bus drivers and even soliciting public safety agencies from surrounding counties to come and use it for a nominal fee in hopes of covering any recurring maintenance costs.

The project is one that almost didn't happen.

Costs associated with purchasing high-dollar items like fire trucks and equipment has grown over the years which has forced departments to try and stretch dollars as far as they can go.

Tuesday, Carswell said that through some brainstorming, his department and the city's procurement department were able to save a significant amount of money by changing the way they had traditionally bought trucks and equipment, which allowed for the purchase of the simulator.