What started out as four television monitors on top of a vehicle dashboard is now the first complete ambulance simulator in North America.

Texas State Technical College’s Emergency Medical Services program hosted area first responders at the unveiling of the simulator, a multinational project between the college, Echo Healthcare, and SimLeader, a Canada-based company that develops safe training environments that allow teams to prepare for the unpredictable. Robert-Francois Demers, executive director of SimLeader, said the ambulance unveiling capped a 10-year dream for him. “We have finally been able to give students the technology to train with what is not just a tabletop screen,” Demers said of designing the technology inside the converted Ford F-350 ambulance. “TSTC is the real thing when it comes to using technology, and this has been my dream to design.”

Nearly 10 years ago, Demers had the idea to convert a vehicle into a simulator. From his original design, Demers and his team began developing the concept along with Echo Healthcare, a Florida-based company that specializes in immersive spaces and educational software. “This is the first of its kind in North America. The only other simulator like this is in Dubai,” Demers said. “People would say to me that this was not possible. They would say you cannot have the screens on the ambulance. When I was planning this 10 years ago, the technology was not there. Today, we are showing that the impossible is possible.”

Demers’ technology was on display as local first responders had the chance to “drive” the simulator. Brianna Carrisalez, an operations supervisor for MetroCare in Abilene, said the simulation is what first responders see on area roads. “This is as real as it can be. People would not stop for me in the simulation,” she said. “To see this technology was amazing.”

Fire Chief Dewey Coy, with the Sweetwater Fire Department and Ambulance Service, was involved in an accident scenario during his simulation.“That is a top-notch simulation,” he said. “It is very realistic. This will be a big advantage in the learning process.” Taylor County Judge Phil Crowley said having the latest technology in Abilene will benefit the region. “This will just make our first responders, who are the best, even better,” he said. “To have one of only two simulators in the world located in Abilene is exciting for Taylor County.”

Ashley Blackburn, TSTC’s EMS program director, said the ambulance will provide students with the training needed for the field. “Having this simulator will allow our students to do something that they would not be able to do until their first day on the job,” she said. “We will get them behind the wheel of an ambulance. This will allow our graduates to be more skilled and more efficient in the health care field.” Kurt VanOordt, senior sales executive with Echo Healthcare, said his company’s concept fits perfectly into TSTC’s mission.

“This ambulance is really a proof of concept,” he said. “It will be the premier training unit in North America. It began as a great concept and idea, and developed into a great tool to benefit the public.”

Robert-Francois Demers (second from left) instructs the driver inside TSTC’s ambulance simulator during an unveiling ceremony on Thursday, Oct 26. Looking on are (from left) Kurt VanOordt, senior sales executive with Echo Healthcare, Ashley Blackburn, TSTC’s EMS program director, and Matt Briggs, TSTC’s EMS clinical coordinator.