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Keeping Emergency Training Real

by Greg Preston
Keeping Emergency Training Real

The St John Ambulance Training Academy in Hannover uses an actual helicopter, lifelike medical mannequins, VR and a whole host of other technologies and techniques for Keeping Emergency Training Real.

The Hannover campus of the Lower Saxony/Bremen St John Ambulance Training Academy is a truly impressive operation. Just to give you some idea of scale, it has 1,600 square meters of floor space, 15 lecture theaters and 36 full-time employees, and last year it trained some 3,500 people in about 70 different courses across a range of disciplines, from first-aid instructor to cook to paramedic.

People from all over Germany attend the academy to gain qualifications and refresh and upgrade their skills in a range of emergency response disciplines. They come from St John Ambulance, of course, but also from other first-responder organizations, fire departments, the armed forces and even private emergency rescue services.

Christoph Life

At the heart of it all is the academy’s “SAN-Arena”, a 500-sqm paramedical training center equipped with all the latest gear. The first thing you’ll notice if you visit the arena is the rescue helicopter “parked” out the front. Named “Christoph Life“, it is actually a full-scale air rescue simulator packed with all the latest high-tech training wizardry. As a true-to-life rescue helicopter training simulator, it is one of a kind in Germany, not to mention the reason why Germany’s Federal Office of Civil Protection and Disaster Assistance (BBK) has been sending its air rescue crews to the St John Ambulance campus in Hannover for training for the past ten years. As the head of the Lower Saxony/Bremen St John Ambulance Training Academy, Kersten Enke, explains: “Christoph Life is our flagship, our beacon.”


The SAN-Arena paramedic training center supports highly realistic training in more than 20 different emergency scenarios, including a car accident scene where the vehicle roof can be removed, a railway track accident scene, a training ambulance, an apartment complete with kitchen and bedroom, and an ER resuscitation room, to name but a few.

Everything that happens in the SAN-Arena can be filmed so that first-aid responses can be reviewed in detail and problem areas practiced and ironed out. And the focus here is just as much on effective communication between responders as it is on correct technique and use of equipment.

One of the training academy’s most recent developments is a 3D VR simulation system that is used for practicing tactical decision-making on things like where at the accident site the responders should be positioned, which aspects of the situation they should attend to first and how, and what they should cover in their situation report back to base. Using a VR headset, training participants are able to move around in virtual scenarios, such as the scene of an air crash, a road accident or an active shooter situation at a supermarket.

“It takes about 20 minutes to get used to the feel of the technology,” says Enke. After that, the trainees are able to tune the technology factor out and respond to the virtual situation they are in as if it were real. From a learning perspective, the key advantage that VR training offers over physical training is that situations can be adjusted and repeated as often as necessary. “Training with VR headsets is already extremely helpful,” Enke explains, “and the technology is getting better all the time”

As it happens, the St John Ambulance Training Academy has a hand in this improvement. It is a partner of ViTAWiN, a German government-backed research project aimed at testing a multi-user VR system for training and professional development in interprofessional emergency care. The academy’s role in the project is to test the effectiveness of the training system.

As realistic as possible

Meanwhile, back in the SAN-Arena, there is a resuscitation room used to provide training in patient handover situations. Stretched out on a gurney in the center of the room lies a man – a Simbodie medical training mannequin. Life-size and with prosthetic-grade silicon skin, he is almost disturbingly life-like. But Enke is very matter-of-fact: “The lower leg can be swapped out for a bleeding amputation stump connected to bleeding tubes and a pump.” The pump in question holds two liters of fake blood. For budding rescue and emergency paramedics, being able to train in such highly realistic settings means they will have all the necessary skills and, just as importantly, a cool head when it comes to the real thing.

Realism is also why the St John Ambulance Training Academy resorts to more than just mannequins and actors drawn from its own ranks when it comes to accident victims. Enke: “We have a number of senior citizens on our books who are still in good health and are happy to help out.” Having real people from the local community makes the emergency scenarios much more realistic and relatable.

Trainees and professionals also need realistic accident staging in order be able to experience the necessary pressure and sense of urgency during their exercises. For this, the SAN-Arena training center has a realistic accident staging room that houses mountains of clothing, shoes, make-up gear and all manner of severed body parts, complete with blood and gore. The St John realistic accident staging crew are so good at their job, they are also used by external organizations, including the police.

The St John Ambulance Training Academy in Hannover currently has nine emergency paramedic classes, which are grouped into three intakes – two civilian and one military. Each class has between 17and 21 trainees. The academy certainly has no trouble finding new trainees. “For our emergency paramedic course we usually get around 20 applications per available space,” Enke says. In other words, the academy can afford to be choosy in who it takes.

Special showcase at INTERSCHUTZ

At the upcoming INTERSCHUTZ show, the St John Ambulance Training Academy is partnering with the German Red Cross (DRK) Lower Saxony Emergency Rescue Academy, the Hannover Fire Service Emergency Paramedical Schools and Malteser Hilfsdienst to operate a special showcase for emergency rescue training organizations in Hall 26. As well as presenting a wide range of emergency rescue and paramedical training options, the show case will feature St John’s VR simulation training system where, needless to say, visitors will be able to don VR headsets and immerse themselves in a catastrophic incident scenario or emergency care situation.

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