- Associated Press - Tuesday, July 26, 2016

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) - A $5.5 million grant will provide four new mobile classrooms to help improve training for emergency responders in rural parts of Nebraska over the next three years.

The University of Nebraska Medical Center said Tuesday that the grant from the Leona and Harry Helmsley foundation will pay for four of the $500,000 trucks to be stationed across the state.

The trucks have advanced simulators inside that offer hands-on training on advanced techniques. The manikins used in the simulations cost almost $900,000. Each truck has an emergency room simulator and an ambulance simulator.

Nebraska is the fourth state to receive a grant from the Helmsley Foundation for the trucks after South Dakota, North Dakota and Montana.

“These kind of training opportunities are incredibly important for rural Nebraska,” said Micheal Dwyer with the Nebraska State Volunteer Firefighters Association.

About 80 percent of the state’s 7,000 emergency responders are volunteers, but rural areas rely even heavier on volunteers. Dwyer said to attend training, those volunteers might have to drive an hour or two to attend classes after already working their primary jobs.

To maintain their certification, emergency responders much regularly attend trainings to make sure their skills are current. Jen Wolsleben said it’s crucial for first responders to have access to affordable continuing education classes to maintain their licenses.

“With department budgets already stretched thin, many responders must pay for these from their own pocket,” said Wolsleben, who is an emergency medical technician in Cedar Bluffs.

The simulator trucks will be based in Lincoln, Kearney, Scottsbluff and Norfolk, but they will move around Nebraska to provide training to first responders and rural hospitals. The goal of this program is to ensure that the level of care people receive in a medical emergency is equal across the state no matter who answers the call or how far away the hospital is.

University of Nebraska President Hank Bounds said shows how the institution he leads is using technology to deliver education.

“It’s hard to put a value on training that will save lives,” Bounds said.

The university will be seeking grants and other funding to pay for continuing to operate the simulator trucks after the initial grant runs out.

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