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Jim Rhodes: Training via video conference saves time, money

Lt. Jim Rhodes AurorFire Department

Lt. Jim Rhodes, Aurora Fire Department

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Updated: September 20, 2013 6:06AM

At some point in a child’s life, she is asked what do she wants to be when she grows up. Not taking this question lightly, I asked my mother for advice. She told me that there is a saying, “if you love what you do, you will never work a day in your life.”

At 8 years old, the answer was simple, I liked fire. My mother, also aware of my obsession, was concerned that one day I might, become an arsonist because while most kids played with blocks and made something creative, I would throw them in the fireplace and watch them burn.

I now understand her apprehension about this issue.

So, I had two options. Become a serial arsonist and risk imprisonment or become a firefighter. After giving it much thought, I went with the latter and decided to become a firefighter.

I was focused on what needed to be done to attain my goal and going to school was more of an obstacle for me. I was a good student, but the idea of learning a bunch of nonsense was not going to help my newly chosen career path. I had it all figured out. Right after high school, I would become an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT), attend the fire academy, then go to Paramedic school. After that I would have all of the qualifications I would need and my dream would come true. I would be doing what I loved and would not have to worry about any more schooling or training. I was a bit naive about this to say the least.

Choosing a career in the fire service requires many hours of training, schooling, continuing education, and specialized training until the day you retire.

Basic firefighter certification is a 370-hour regime and EMT-Basic is a 200-hour program that includes classroom and clinical hours. To become a licensed paramedic, a 900-hour program consisting of classroom, clinical rotations and field experience must be passed. There are also a multitude of other classes that are required as well. All of the mentioned requires that a state exam, and in some cases hands-on test be passed.

To retain these licenses and certifications, continue education and training must be completed every year. In 2012, 64,207 hours of firefighter training and 2,592 hours of specialized training were completed by the members of the Aurora Fire Department.

One of the down sides to all of the required training was that units would be taken out of their territories, which would increase response times, but unbeknownst to all, a solution to this issue was on the horizon.

In 2008, Aurora and Naperville invested in one large, joint-interoperable radio system that uses a fiber optic connection for the radio system. They then discovered this system had significant bandwidth capabilities that were not being fully utilized and wondered how they could use this for the further betterment of both cities. Video conferencing was the answer.

So began the Aurora and Naperville fire departments endeavor to bring this type of technology to life. To handle the project, the cities used Cisco TelePresence with the infrastructure and technological capabilities for the systems to be centrally located at Aurora City Hall.

“The idea of using video conferencing began to look like a system we could operate and one which would greatly benefit both of our communities,” said Ted Beck, Aurora’s chief information officer. “So each town reached out to our fire department members to explore funding options, available grants and feasibility.”

Before video conferencing, training was conducted at a particular station, which required multiple fire companies to leave their areas resulting in increased response times. For example, the six-minute average response times in Aurora could sometimes more than double to 14 minutes because firefighters were not responding from their assigned stations.

As a result of implementing the video conference system, which was instituted in early 2013, an instructor can provide instruction from one location to multiple sites simultaneously. This system allows interaction between instructors and trainees, while mobile video units allow firefighters to conduct hands-on demonstrations outside of stations. Training sessions are also recorded and archived to allow access for firefighters who may have missed the live programs.

“In Aurora and Naperville, we have seen a direct cost savings from the ability to provide required training in multiple locations simultaneously,” said Robert Bush, bureau chief of the Naperville Fire Department. “Instructors are no longer required to make trips to multiple stations to deliver the same training repeatedly, saving both instructor time and travel costs. Additionally, by offering training onsite in community-based fire stations, firefighters are in their areas of assignment during training and can respond to incidents much more quickly. Our firefighters will also be more highly trained due to the speed and effectiveness of our video-conferencing system.”

Overall cost savings will be seen as operating cost are likely to decrease by about $130,000 annually and additional savings in reduced time and travel for instructors and firefighters. The Aurora and Naperville fire departments will be able to better serve their citizens because of the positive economical impact, which will allow assets to be redistributed to better serve community needs while keeping fire units ready to respond and keeping them on the cutting edge of training technology.

Lt. Jim Rhodes is assigned to Aurora Fire Department Engine 10 on the West Side and heads up Local 99’s Public Relations Committee. Firefighter and paramedic Dan Bateman contributed to this article.

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