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Simulator gives students a taste of driving an engine

The Grundy Area Vocational Center is the only vocational center in the state that has a simulator for students to get a sense of what it will be like to drive a fire engine.

This opportunity is thanks to the Minooka Fire Protection District.

"It is rare for high school students to have access to this. We are so appreciative of Minooka for this opportunity," said GAVC Director Lance Copes.

The $100,000 simulator was obtained through a Federal Emergency Management Agency grant a couple of years ago, said Minooka Chief Al Yancey. This past summer, the station gave the GAVC Fire Science program the simulator on loan so the students could use it.

Yancey said it was used at the station, but he felt it could get more use with the GAVC students. Many of the GAVC Fire Science students come to the Minooka department, and other area departments, to become volunteer firefighters and many will eventually have careers at these departments.

"This will help prepare them for fire apparatus operation. It is a good fit," he said.

Minooka's firefighters still use the simulator, they just make arrangements to do so at GAVC.
The simulator is built by a company that makes military simulators to help train pilots, said Yancey.

"It's built for the purpose to give the most realistic effect," he said. "They can drive it and wreck it and don't hurt anyone or do any real damage."

Fire Science Instructor Robert Brown said he has three classes this year with 37 students who have access to the simulator. The simulator is not part of the class grading scale, but is used as an incentive.
"We use it as a learning tool right now, not an evaluating tool," said Brown.

The students earn minutes on the simulator for accomplishments such as perfect attendance in a quarter, a 100 percent grade on a quiz, completed resumes earning an A, passing the qualifying exam for the SkillsUSA competition and other course requirements.

"Through the incentives, we try to make an effort for them to know we value their education and they should as well," said Brown.

The students' work on the simulator is monitored on a computer, which also can control the environment the student is driving in, said Brown. The weather can be changed so they are driving in rain or snow, on slick roads, and it can be set to blow out a tire or have a pedestrian walk into traffic.

Before they can drive in actual fire scenarios on the simulator, they have to earn their "driver's license" by taking a training course. The simulator has a course in a parking lot where the engine has to be driven through cones.

As Steven Wittkamp, senior at Minooka Community High School, "drove" the engine out of a fire house Thursday, a limo driver flew by right in front of him testing his reaction time to brake and reminding him to put his sirens on. Once the sirens were on, vehicles in the simulation began to yield as he drove to a house fire with smoke and flames coming out of the roof.

The program allows for many graphic changes. In another scenario, Wittkamp was traveling down a highway surrounded by billboards that promote GAVC and Fire Science.

The simulations can be set to be consequential, said Brown. For example, if the driver exceeds the speed limit it can be set to have a pedestrian walk into the road to show the student has to watch their speed.

"It's a lot different than last year. It definitely makes class a lot more fun," said Wittkamp.

Driving it allows you to feel the difference with driving such a large vehicle, he said. You can feel how you have to take turns wider and the difficulty with steering something so large. With the simulator, you also feel the vehicle slide farther than a car would when its driving on ice, he said.

To work your way up a fire department, you have to be able to drive the apparatus, said Minooka senior Jake Fleischauer.

"So once we get into the academy we will be more prepared than anyone who hasn't used this," he said.

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