What is the best way to train firefighters without taking them away from their stations? Enter video conferencing.

To keep its firefighters and emergency medical personnel up to date, the Peoria, Arizona, Fire Department conducts ongoing training sessions among eight stations in the area. But the department has always faced the trade-off between training staff efficiently and keeping them close to their home stations in case of an emergency.

It was always a logistical nightmare trying to schedule training at one point in town for emergency medical personnel, while keeping their stations staffed, explains Mark Nichols, training chief for Peoria Fire Department. Weve started down the path of video conferencing with Nefsis to bridge this gap, and I see the potential to save at least $20,000 per year across our 8 stations.

Rolling out video conferencing

The department began looking into video conferencing in early 2009. After researching other options, Nichols found that Nefsis combines the high quality of video conferencing with the low cost, ease of use and collaboration tools of web conferencing.

The computers were in place by early 2010 when the department kicked off a pilot project connecting the fire administration building to the first station. The project was partially funded from the start, and the department estimates that the savings on fuel and traveling expenses will make up most of the remainder.

Video conferencing training sessions take the form of a multipoint online meeting among the desktops, laptops, and large monitors installed in each station. The Peoria Fire Department is using Nefsis collaboration, recording, and narration features to run lessons directly from Nichols and other trainers laptop computers.

Buying time

Trainers can reach firefighters and conduct effective training all over the city, while stations remain fully manned. Training can be done on things such as tactics and strategy, building construction safety, EMT (emergency medical technician) classes and continuing education for paramedics.

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Nichols points to several ways in which this technology will improve training and communication among stations:

Tactical training. They can stage simulated fire events via video conference, in which one team sees and trains on the roof-level training, another team has an inside-the-building view, and a third trains on outside tactical management. More important, Nefsis level of performance is such that the teams are able to train effectively on the tactical collaboration it takes to fight a fire. All of this training and continuing education takes place over a video conference connecting the stations.

Staff meetings. Besides education-intensive training sessions, the department can conduct administrative and staff meetings online without removing medical personnel from their stations and service areas.

Emergency review. Emergency medical personnel conduct quality assurance on all of their calls, so when they come across a unique or interesting case, they can provide a video conference of lessons learned and discuss their response.

Hospital-paramedic contact. Live video plays a big part in this important feedback loop. Doctors at hospitals can share final x-rays and conduct Q&A via video conference so that paramedics can see the diagnoses and outcomes of the patients theyve helped and learn lessons for future responses; for instance, for spinal injuries, big bone fractures and trauma.

Video conferencing is such a transparent way for us to stage all this training that weve also eliminated the burden we would have incurred for the citys IT department to manage staffing, software and training, concludes Nichols.

Note: Contributed by Nefsis