The donation of a decommissioned helicopter is going to bring hands-on education for paramedic and aviation students at Fanshawe College to new heights.
The 38-year-old Sikorsky S-76A served as part of Ornge’s 12 air ambulance fleet in Ontario from 1999 to 2011, and is now serving as a learning tool for nearly 300 students at Fanshawe’s primary care and advanced care paramedic programs, and at the Norton Wolf School of Aviation Technology.
“We decided the right thing to do was to find an appropriate home for it, where it could become a tool for higher learning and continuous education,” said Ornge chief operating officer and deputy CEO Rob Giguere.
Some of the aircraft’s parts, including the rotor hub and transmission, have been taken off the helicopter to be used as teaching aids for aviation students.
Its hull is now fastened to a trailer frame and wheels, so it can be towed to different locations around the college during simulation exercises for paramedic students, like Scott Bernaertz.
Bernaertz says it’s bittersweet to see the aircraft coming in shortly before he graduates. He and his peers have had to rely on verbal cues during exercises in the past, saying things like, “Now I would call the helicopter,” “OK, the helicopter is here,” and “We’ve transported in the helicopter.”
The aircraft will “add layers of realism to training scenarios,” and will “contribute to smoother transitions from students into professionals,” he explained.
Paramedic program co-ordinator Brad McArthur says there will be little left to students’ imaginations.
“The biggest part of paramedic practice is making that decision to leave a scene and get to the hospital. How much time you spend at the scene providing care, and then having to do that care in a dynamic environment that’s bouncing, that’s moving, that’s loud, that’s noisy. We try to create that.”
The program already has three decommissioned ambulances, and six mock ambulances for its simulations.
“The helicopter is just another huge element to that, we’ll be able to create that environment of having to work in a confined space with the noise, with the sounds, that can’t be re-created otherwise.”
The air ambulance won’t be running during simulation; it doesn’t have an engine or many other key components, but McArthur said they work with the engineering and aviation programs during simulations to make working headsets, and get sound bites from Ornge that re-create distracting radio chatter.
Giguere says the donated helicopter carried some 6,000 patients and flew some 6,000 hours before its final flight on March 6, 2011. He says before being turned into an air ambulance, it belonged to British Columbia-based Okanagan Helicopters, which used it to fly oil rig workers to offshore platforms in both Thailand and India.
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