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February 16, 2024 Startups, Technology & Innovation

E. Hartford company develops virtual reality training for EMTs, paramedics

Contributed VRSim's virtual reality training system for emergency medical personnel provides real-life situations to learn basic skills.

Chris DeRosa is an emergency medical technician (EMT) instructor who has been there and done that. 

In fact, while serving as a firefighter in South Carolina, he and his crew once assisted in three different emergency births in a span of six days. 

More recently, DeRosa, now the department head for criminal justice and protective services at Bullard Havens Technical High School in Bridgeport, has served as a consultant with East Hartford-based VRSim. 

The company has developed virtual reality (VR) training for emergency medical service (EMS), EMTs and paramedics. The program has not yet been released, but will be demonstrated next week during an event planned at the University of St. Joseph in West Hartford.

DeRosa says VRSim’s new program will revolutionize EMT training.

“I think it’s going to give students a better understanding of the skills that they need in order to finish the state- and national-level certification tests,” he said. 

‘Better training faster’

Matthew Wallace, president and CEO of VRSim, said his company developed the virtual reality EMT training system as a way to “make a dent” in the shortage of EMTs and paramedics.

“The goal is a better training modality — better training faster,” he said.

VRSim was founded in the early 2000s by creating a VR simulator that could train welders, which was followed by a VR system to train workers for painting with industrial coatings, like those used on submarines. The company last year expanded into VR training for certified nursing assistants (CNAs).

But after learning about a statewide shortage of firefighters, EMTs and paramedics — which prompted Gov. Ned Lamont to establish a task force to address the issue last year — VRSim decided to develop its new training system for emergency medical personnel to help speed training.

Wallace said he was approached by former East Hartford Mayor Mike Walsh, who told him the town’s emergency services units were trying to attract young adults to learn EMS Level 1 skills.

“These are the basic skills you do in emergency services,” Wallace said. “From his suggestion, eight months later we created a product that will be sold starting this month.”

Wallace said VR training systems have an advantage with younger adults, who have grown up using computers and playing video games. It also allows training for not only more common scenarios, like treating a patient in cardiac arrest, but rare situations that would be difficult to set up in real life, like chemical spills or emergency births.

“By using this we can also give them exposure to events that are less common but have high value,” he said. “Something like a live childbirth where they don’t have time to get to the hospital.”

Three emergency births

While emergency births are generally considered rare, it’s something DeRosa knows a lot about. While serving in the Army in South Carolina, he was released from active duty and trained to serve as a firefighter in Richland County. 

“I did a week of training, and that last Friday they put you out on the street,” he said. “That Friday afternoon, the crew that I was with, we delivered a baby.”

The following Monday, he said, he and his crew handled another emergency birth. But they weren’t done. “That Wednesday, we had another,” he said. 

DeRosa has tried VRSim’s virtual reality training system for EMTs, and said it’s very realistic.

“The birthing one that they have is an excellent thing,” he said. “It's a high-risk, low-frequency type call. So it's one of those skills you don't get to do and the portion of the program where they do that skill is right on to what happens in the real world.”

He added that, because the VR simulation provides all they need for training, students repeat it without help, which will speed the learning process. 

“They don’t have to worry about having somebody play a victim,” DeRosa said. “They don’t have to worry about somebody making sure they’re hitting all the points. This is just something they can do on their own.”

Wallace said VRSim has contracts with experts like DeRosa to review the training and ensure their accuracy and that they meet training requirements.

The VRNA EMS training system will officially debut on March 8, but VRSim will hold an event on Friday, Feb. 23, at the University of St. Joseph to demonstrate it.

The event will be held from 10 a.m. to noon in USJ’s Bruyette Athenaeum on Asylum Avenue in West Hartford. In addition to the demonstration, the event will include the screening of “Honorable But Broken: EMS In Crisis,” a documentary about the EMS shortage created by Bryony Gilbey, a former CBS and ABC TV news producer, who will speak about the film.

It will also include a panel discussion with state and local elected officials and emergency medical representatives that will be moderated by WTIC-AM 1080 radio host Brian Schactman. 

The event is free and open to the public. Information about the event and how to register for it are available on the VRSim website.

The event “is not so much about what we’re doing as it is to talk about the plight of EMS in Connecticut,” Wallace said. “We spend less on it per person than almost any state in the union. There’s a need for EMS training out there.”

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