From a converted horse stable in Maurice to a new, state-of-the-art facility in Lafayette, the Safety Training Academy and National EMS Academy (NEMSA) have come a long way. “We had an NFL team in a high school stadium; now, we’re in the Superdome,” says Chris Grossie, Coast Guard curriculum coordinator.

Opened on May 1, 2008, Acadian Companies’ sprawling, 86,000-square-foot complex covers 19 acres, with another 24 ripe for further development. This impressive facility houses Safety Management Systems, National EMS Academy and a training academy for both divisions. The SMS training academy consists of EMS, industrial, crane and rigging, fire and water courses.

Outside is the fire field, a simulated crane and a pond for future lifeboatman training classes. In a separate structure is the indoor water safety pool, complete with a METS training unit, mock platform and various flotation devices. A lodging building with bunkrooms similar to those on offshore rigs sleeps up to 100 people. Next door is a large dining hall catered by Bailey’s with an indoor rec room.

In between SMS and NEMSA is a large auditorium that comfortably seats 250. Although designed primarily for large groups and classes, some customers have rented the facility for their own events. The SMS division has 14 multi-media classrooms with projectors and Internet capability. Courses taught include Safe Gulf, crane operating and rigging, and water survival. SMS clients include Global Industries, C & C Technologies, National Oilwell, along with hundreds of other companies. “It’s the only training facility in the area with this size lodging and dining facility on site,” Grossie says.

Outside by the pond is a 30-ton refurbished crane for rigger classes, which show workers firsthand how to connect and disconnect loads, including pipes and personnel baskets, from a crane. Rails are on site to simulate a boat deck for offshore use. The pond was designed primarily for training. In the future, SMS will offer classes on the totally enclosed motor propelled survival craft (TEMPSC), an escape capsule used for offshore platforms. Also outdoors is a decompression chamber for diver medical technician training. “Our staff and facility deliver the most realistic hands-on training scenarios available,” observes Mark Trahan, operations manager for the training division.

The outdoor fire field is where firefighters do hands training. The academy teaches everything from a two-hour fire extinguisher class up to the U.S. Coast Guard-approved basic and advanced firefighting classes. At that stage, students learn how to don a self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) to fight larger fires. On site is a structure designed with steps to simulate a staircase on one side, with smaller, more confined rooms on the other. During training sessions, rooms are filled with staged smoke on the mock staircase side. Simulated structures, including a waste basket, flange fire, engine and electric generator, are actually set on fire. These mock chambers are a real test for potential firemen with claustrophobia.

Most impressively, the facility boasts a modular egress training simulator (METS) in its indoor pool area. The METS unit, a simulated helicopter on a crane called the “dunker,” holds up to eight students and teaches them how to escape in water crashes. After the passengers are strapped into the cockpit, the helicopter hits the water and capsizes. At that point, the students have to find landmarks, remove seatbelts, open doors and swim up to the surface. But, don’t worry – one instructor is inside the helicopter for every two students, along with two divers in the water, in case of emergency. “It’s really impressive,” Trahan says.

On the other side of the building, National EMS Academy classes are ongoing for entry level EMTs and paramedics. The Academy has partnered with South Louisiana Community College for paramedic training. All of the NEMSA students receive college credit that is applied to an associate’s degree. The Academy offers several levels of training. One uses a high end video conference network that feeds content to seven satellite sites across Louisiana, and also offers a locally taught accelerated curriculum.

For hands-on training, NEMSA places a heavy emphasis on simulation. The Academy hosts a simulation lab composed of several rooms such as a living room, bedroom, emergency room and mock-up ambulance. During the high stakes simulations, the program medical director, who is a practicing ER physician, participates in the simulations and evaluates the students’ skills.

NEMSA continues to grow each year. “In 2008, we trained close to 2 percent of all of the newly certified paramedics in the nation,” reports Gifford Saravia, NEMSA director. “I don’t think anybody is doing EMS training on the scale that we are doing.”

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