Tell us about your career path. How did your association with the GRC come about? And how did you get from there to being director of the Emergency Rescue Academy?

I first got into emergency rescue work via the Junior Red Cross and as a GRC trainee volunteer. I liked the idea of teaching, so on completion of my paramedic training in 1980 I started teaching first aid and paramedics at the Emergency Rescue Academy alongside my normal duties. In 1988 I began teaching there full time.

How many people do you currently have training at the academy as paramedics, and how many classes is that overall?

It’s a three-year course, and for each year group we have four classes of 20 to 22 trainees each. So, across all three year-groups and our two campuses in Goslar and Hannover we currently have a total of 246 people training to be paramedics.

What attributes, in your view, should the ideal candidates for your paramedic training course possess?

The ideal candidates undertake the training out of a desire to be able to competently help people in critical, often life-threatening, situations. They need to have a genuine desire to learn about emergency medicine, have good people skills and enjoy working as part of a team.

But, above all, they must be willing to take ownership of their responsibility to provide the best possible treatment at all times to the patients in their care.

How do you find applicants that fit with this ideal?

Well, luckily in the rescue services we have no shortage of applicants for our training courses. We use internships and a very extensive selection process to zero in on the best applicants.

A good deal of what the academy does relates to continuing professional development. In what areas do people most commonly require refreshers and skill updates? Or, in other words, in what areas of practice do skill deficits most quickly creep in?

The greatest need for continuing professional development is always in areas that are not part of routine practice. But of course, all areas of emergency medicine require that practitioners keep up to date with new developments at all times. And that can only happen if our professionals are able to learn and practice without the pressure experienced in real emergency situations.

The academy’s simulation and training center supports over 100 emergency response scenarios. Are there any additions you would like to see? Are there any scenarios you think are lacking?

Our simulation and training center in Hannover’s Misburg district serves us extremely well, and we have the full support of our executive board in the center’s ongoing development. We are constantly expanding the range of training scenarios available by purchasing new equipment. So, no, there are not really any gaps or shortfalls.

For several months now the academy’s simulation options have included Virtual Rescue, a VR headset that simulates a range of rescue scenarios. How real do these VR simulated emergency responses feel?

Virtual Rescue enables us to take all participants on the course through the exact same sequence of events where, for example, they need to locate and triage a large number of patients following an explosion. With the VR headset, users very quickly start experiencing the scenario as if it were a real-life incident response.

You can see that from how users physically move around the simulated incident scene, such as when they need to climb over obstacles, for example. So far, the feedback from all trainees who have used the technology is that the incident scenarios are very realistic. And that’s something you just can’t get with videos or similar training tools.

Not everyone is comfortable with the technology. How do you rate the VR headsets in terms of user-friendliness?

When we first introduced the VR headset, we developed a user tutorial to acclimatize students to wearing it and teach them how to control it. To date we’ve had no problems, not even among the less tech-savvy of our students. To give you an example, I remember one young colleague who was initially a little hesitant about the technology – "A video game? Really?!" – but after first her turn she was so excited, she asked for another go.

One slight issue is that the wireless connection between the VR headset and notebook can be a little flaky, so for the time being we’ve decided to stick with a wired connection. But we expect that the system will get better as the technology matures.

Where do you think digital simulation technology is headed? Do you think we will soon be seeing VR headsets in basic first aid courses?

Digital technologies are developing very rapidly and are becoming increasingly affordable. At the same time, the range of applications is continually expanding, so I can well imagine digital learning aids like VR headsets moving into first aid teaching.

Does the GRC Emergency Rescue Academy have input into the ongoing development of simulation technology?

We plan to develop our system into a multi-player solution so that entire rescue teams can enter the scenario and treat the patients once they have been triaged.

Are there any aspects of rescue and paramedic work that simply can’t be practiced using technology?

Yes. Learning how to interact with patients in real emergency care situations is something that can still only be done via situation training using actors.

What will the GRC Lower Saxony Emergency Rescue Academy be presenting at INTERSCHUTZ 2020?

As well as our Virtual Rescue program, we will be presenting various emergency care situations using a range of simulation equipment. We would like to use the show to highlight the diversity of the paramedic training program and give visitors an understanding of the many facets of the paramedic profession. We’re looking forward to productive, stimulating dialogue with lots of great people.

And on a more personal note, what does INTERSCHUTZ mean for you, and what aspects of it are you most looking forward to?

As the world’s biggest event of its kind, INTERSCHUTZ is a wonderful opportunity to learn new things and to compare notes with peers from many different areas of the emergency services sector. Personally, I am really looking forward to this collegial dialogue and, of course, to showcasing our rescue academy.

About the GRC Lower Saxony Emergency Rescue Academy

The German Red Cross rescue training academy in Lower Saxony has been training emergency response personnel since 1969, including paramedics, emergency response trainers, rescue services volunteers, rescue station managers, ER doctors and ER directors. Around 1,500 students from all over Germany, including from organizations not associated with the GRC, take part in the school’s training programs every year.

Over 100 emergency response scenarios can be simulated at the school’s 1,200 square meter (13,000 sq. ft.) VR training center in Hannover, which, among much else, features a fully furnished apartment, a construction site, scaffolding, a workshop, a playground, a bus stop and pedestrian crossing, a truck cab and a state-of-the-art lighting and sound system. In addition, some 18 video cameras help the trainers to record and evaluate the students’ performance.