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Akron to get new ambulances, apply for virtual reality training for police department

Blue light on top of a red and white ambulance
Tobias Arhelger
The Akron Fire Department will purchase two new ambulances to help keep up with new demands.

Akron Police hope to use virtual reality to improve de-escalation training.

On Monday, Akron City Council unanimously approved the department's request to apply for grant funds to create a virtual reality de-escalation training program.

The department plans to work with researchers at Cleveland State University to equip a training room with VR technology for realistic, immersive training in de-escalation techniques.

De-escalation techniques are designed to prevent situations from escalating to physical confrontation or injury, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

This is the first time the department is applying for these grants, Captain Augie Micozzi said.

“It’s a new opportunity for us to fund this training to give us the opportunity to expand what we’re doing now and improve it,” Micozzi said.

Some of the funding would go to providing overtime pay for officers who need to attend the training on their day off, he added.

“It does enable us to do what we’d like to do here, which is improve our performance in de-escalation training,” Micozzi said.

The department is applying for two de-escalation training grants from the Ohio Criminal Justice Services and the federal Bureau of Justice Assistance.

Akron City Council approved the department’s request to apply for the grants during its regular meeting Monday night at 7 p.m.

During the last city council meeting on Oct. 16, the council unanimously approved spending $450,000 to purchase new ambulances.

Akron's fire department has experienced challenges after the city parted ways with a private ambulance service, American Medical Response, in July. For decades, AMR had assisted the department, primarily with hospital transports.

In September, Akron Fire Chief Joseph Natko told Akron City Council he anticipated needing $1 millionto keep up with the new overtime and equipment costs.

In a recent public safety committee meeting, Deputy Chief Steven Kaut said delays in hiring and purchasing equipment have forced the department to regroup.

“There’s been many talks over the past few months with our medical response and the changes that are happening in EMS,” Kaut said. “With that, we have been planning on a new operating model by adding additional med units to our frontline fleet.”

The department is working on getting a new class of paramedics onboarded, but it can take about three years to get new equipment, Kaut added.

Kaut and the city’s finance department worked to find a supplier that could get the med units to them quickly — and that they could afford.

There was an effort "to try to look at the different markets, maybe the used market, maybe refurbished market, to see what’s out there we can get our hands on now, and be able to use this year's budget and not wait that three year lead time,” Kaut said.

The two ambulances from Penn Co. Inc. are brand new and meet the specifications the department needs, he added.

Updated: October 23, 2023 at 8:32 PM EDT
This story has been updated to include an update that Akron City Council unanimously approved the police department's request to apply for grants for a de-escalation training program.
Anna Huntsman covers Akron, Canton and surrounding communities for Ideastream Public Media.