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Duckworth on Education: Training With Real Equipment

Most EMS educators have some kind of training equipment at their disposal. Not rubber arms and intubation heads; here we mean oxygen kits, EKG monitors, and equipment bags. There are certainly times when it is impractical, impossible, or at least unwise to use actual live equipment straight from a response vehicle, but in this article we are going to discuss why, when you can do it, it’s a really great idea.

  1. Nobody likes training with dirty, broken, or obsolete equipment. It makes the training seem cheap and unrealistic. Training with live gear helps remove some of the stigma of “this isn’t real—this is just a class with some training gear.” Students, especially current providers, respond much better to using truly “in service” gear. While some supplies and equipment are too expensive to use, administer, or even open the package (I’m looking at you, EpiPen), many of the supplies we use are so inexpensive that it’s worth the educational benefits of using brand-new live equipment. In many cases it isn’t even worth the time and effort we spend rewinding, resetting, cleaning, and prepping used training equipment.
  2. It helps keep instructors and students from skipping crucial steps because “this is just training, so you don’t have to do that.” When students are forced to manage every step—from finding the gear where it’s normally stored to opening the packages and assembling the equipment—they get a much better idea of the amount of time and mental energy spent simply managing gear on an emergency call. There is no need to set students up for failure when the normal troubleshooting that must occur is often plenty to challenge their critical thinking and ability to stay focused on patient care and avoid equipment-related tunnel vision.
  3. It helps you find problems, especially with infrequently used equipment. For example, you may find that critical but infrequently used “difficult airway” gear gets crushed by the weight of the oxygen tank in the same bag. Wow, can this be an excellent opportunity to improve the setup of your gear! Avoid interrupting the scenario, though. See what solutions students come up with on the fly and then bring the class together after the scenario to evaluate the best way to move forward.
  4. It lets you evaluate if your setup can be improved. Sometimes you don’t run into any problems, but through students and educators using real gear and having the time to think about it, improved solutions present themselves. For example, in training on apneic oxygenation, while using a standard nasal cannula to provide high-flow oxygen to maintain a patient’s saturation during intubation, students came up with the idea of packaging a nasal cannula with every adult BVM so when the BVM came out, the student wouldn’t forget the nasal cannula and had it right there in front of them. 
  5. It keeps students focused on the lesson and related critical thinking, rather than looking to the instructor to see, “Am I allowed to do this? Am I allowed to use this?” It often leaves students with a much greater understanding of how a real scenario will go and adds significant authority to the lesson presented.

It may not always be practical or possible to use live equipment during training, and of course for things that are sharp, shocking, or could slow down or speed up your heart, all necessary precautions must always be taken. But use of real, live gear can provide real, live educational benefits no training gear can match.

Rommie L. Duckworth, LP, is a dedicated emergency responder and award-winning educator with more than 25 years working in career and volunteer fire departments, hospital healthcare systems, and public and private emergency medical services. He is currently a career fire captain and paramedic EMS coordinator.


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