A new approach to training snowfighters

Andy DeMonte
Director of Public Works
Village of Morton Grove, Illinois

A decade ago, several communities in the Chicago metropolitan area combined their energies and resources to launch a training facility intended to serve the needs of local public safety personnel. They envisioned a one-of-a-kind campus encompassing 20 acres of property on a former federal Naval Air Station that was shuttered in 1995 after more than 50 years of service to the nation.

Today, the Northeastern Illinois Public Safety Training Academy (NIPSTA), located in Glenview, is a premier destination for training emergency First Responders—including public works professionals. NIPSTA was established as an intergovernmental agency and has grown to include more than two dozen members that share a common mission: To provide high-quality, cost-efficient educational programs that address the needs of local government.

The hallmark of NIPSTA is its cooperative approach to public safety and emergency preparedness. This is evident in the Public Works Training Committee, which is a group of local directors and staff who are committed to identifying regional solutions to departmental challenges. This has resulted in a progressive training curriculum that is specifically targeted to their employees.

The NIPSTA Snowfighting Program is a dynamic approach to preparing local operators for Chicago's winter weather. The two-part program includes:

Operators maneuver throughout the NIPSTA road course, which simulates a variety of streetscapes and settings that present snowfighting challenges.

Real-Time Driver Training
Unable to identify another comparable training program at the national or local level, committee members designed this unique curriculum. It introduces new operators to basic snowplowing principles and serves as a refresher program for seasoned drivers. The half-day session combines classroom instruction with behind-the-wheel exercises on a road course laid out on the 160,000-square-foot NIPSTA Driver Training Pad. Instructors are trained locally to address topics such as personal responsibility, job quality, workplace safety, and resident satisfaction. This interactive format also provides a forum for exchanging ideas and sharing best practices related to pre-trip preparation, street salting techniques, plowing patterns, and snow removal.

The NIPSTA snowfighting simulator provides a virtual reality training experience for operators. Winter scenarios challenge drivers' skills and techniques.

Simulated Driver Training
The recent acquisition of two state-of-the-art driver training simulators has broadened the NIPSTA Snowfighting Program. This high-tech equipment offers virtual reality training in situation awareness, risk analysis, forward/backward maneuvers, decision-making, emergency reaction and avoidance, and conscientious equipment operation. Professionally-developed scenarios enable operators to accomplish all of these educational objectives. The learning that takes place in the simulators complements the outdoor experience on the NIPSTA Driver Training Pad. The simulators also provide for a year-round, reality-based curriculum on the NIPSTA Campus.

The NIPSTA Snowfighting Program was featured at the APWA North American Snow Conference in 2006. Public works professionals gained valuable insights about this innovative training, which is one of the distinguishing features of the Academy. More information is available at www.NIPSTA.org.

Andy DeMonte can be reached at (847) 470-5235.