Firefighters’ Refrain: ‘What A Dummy’

Training simulator

Training simulator Photo by Alexis Bechman. |

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Rim Country firefighters tested out a new training dummy Wednesday at the Hellsgate Fire Department’s Star Valley station. Through the help of the Mogollon Health Alliance, Hellsgate purchased the simulator recently for $6,000 through an auction for a fraction of the cost of a new dummy. The high-tech device allows paramedics to practice CPR, diagnosis and other life-saving skills.

Wisconsin firefighters have poked, prodded and killed him more times than his rubber, pliable fingers can count.

Now at eight years old, Laerdal SimMan, a universal patient simulator, will retire to Rim Country — and show firefighters here a thing or two.

Unlike a real patient, Laerdal SimMan takes the mistakes made by rookie paramedics in stride. Pop a plastic lung? No problem — order new parts through the catalog of parts; no need to wait on the transplant list.

The Hellsgate Fire Department last week acquired the first patient simulator in Rim Country thanks to a donation from the Mogollon Health Alliance.

The training dummy is as close to working on a real human as possible, said David Bathke, Hellsgate’s battalion chief. Bathke, who recently joined Hellsgate after working as a firefighter/paramedic in Wisconsin for years, was one of the first to work with the SimMan.

Shortly after transferring to Star Valley, Bathke learned the same SimMan he had worked on at the Waukesha County Technical College was up for auction.

With fire department budgets shrinking, he knew Hellsgate didn’t have the money for the simulator, even if he asked every Rim Country fire department to contribute.

So he and Hellsgate Fire Chief Gary Hatch went to the Mogollon Health Alliance and convinced the group to donate $8,000. They used $6,100 to buy the SimMan, which costs about $50,000 new.

Bathke said Gary Cordell, with the MHA, helped secure the training device.

“He deserves a big thank you not only from the fire departments but residents because this is going to greatly enhance our abilities and continued education in ALS (advanced life support) training,” he said.

On Wednesday, some Payson, Pine-Strawberry and Hellsgate firefighters met SimMan for the first time and quickly went to work putting him through the ringer.

The simulator flatlined repeatedly, as firefighters tested how far they could push the dummy.

Turns out, pumping him full of drugs, although only distilled water, will kill him.

But while firefighters had their fun with the simulator, the device serves a serious purpose and one that could mean life or death.

Bob Tiarks Jr., who flew from Wisconsin to train crews on the features of the simulator, said the device can simulate just about any medical condition. It even talks.

“Doc, I feel like I could die,” said the SimMan through two detached computer speakers.

As Tiarks spoke Wednesday, the SimMan lay on a table in Hellsgate’s training room, its chest rising and falling thanks to an air compressor. A computer monitor nearby showed his vitals. Trainers can also control his airway, cardiac functions, pulse, blood pressure and sounds.

“The role of the simulator is limited only by your imagination,” Tiarks said, who had dressed the device in a Packers shirt, much to the firefighters’ chagrin.

Tiarks explained the device translates textbook concepts into hands-on action.

Students can administer drugs through replaceable skin and veins, check for a pulse, take blood pressure and even insert a catheter.

With self-healing skin, firefighters can poke and prod when learning how to insert an IV and not cause any pain on a real patient.

Tiarks said instructors can make it hard on trainees, locking the dummy’s jaw and neck, dropping the blood pressure and making it emit vomit sounds.

A computer records everything firefighters do so trainers can go over what worked and what didn’t.

Hatch said the SimMan is a tremendous gift from the MHA.

His goal is to let every engine house and each shift train with the SimMan at least once every three months.

“We believe whoever uses this will improve their skills on real people,” he said.

Bathke said the SimMan could expect a long life with the Hellsgate Fire Department so long as they keep him stocked.

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