Driving simulator trains Bergen County personnel

The county executive, who happens to be a volunteer firefighter, showed off his fire truck driving skills in Bergen’s new mobile driving simulator.

“You can see by my not being behind the wheel very often how I face some of the challenges that are presented,” said Jim Tedesco, Bergen County executive.

The simulation may be fun, but the driving is serious business. The $180,000 simulator is only the second mobile simulator in the state. NJ Transit has the other.

The goal is to get more local first responders behind the wheel here first, without having to go to the nonmobile simulator in Mahwah, which takes people out work for the whole day.

“I was a former firefighter in my town. I use to drive a firetruck, and when you started you go to a huge parking lot where you couldn’t hit anything. This would be great to start on and get a feel for those wide turns before you get behind the wheel of one of those firetrucks,” said Bergen County Sheriff Michael Saudino.

The recent bus crash along Route 80 that killed a student and a teacher brought home how wrong driving decisions can cause catastrophes.

The mobile simulator recreates driving in police cars, fire trucks, school buses and dump trucks.

The fire truck simulation is just like the real thing. You put your seat belt on and keep your eyes on the road. The best thing about the simulation is drivers are able to recreate real world scenarios that a new driver may not be familiar with. If you wreck it, all you have to do is push restart.

For new recruits, the simulation may be the first time they actually drive a large truck.

“They may not be familiar with the weight of the truck, and the touch and feel of actually being behind the wheel of a truck that’s 40,000 or 50,000 pounds. That’s important because sometimes we’re getting people who’ve never driven anything more than their mother’s Toyota. It’s a big difference,” said Bergen County Law and Public Safety Institute instructor Tom Simmons.

Bergen County has been stocking up on high-tech gear for first responders. Two summers ago, the county got a fleet of drones that are being used for search and rescue and law enforcement. The mobile simulation can be used by any municipality in Bergen for free.