Posts Tagged ‘Wilderness first aid’

On Being Prepared

6 March 2012

I’ve been taking an increasing number of people into the backcountry. I’ve been with or led groups as far as 20 miles into the backcountry, where there is no cell service, you don’t see people, and the nearest first responders are probably eight or more hours away. I have firm plans for three more wilderness experiences this year.

So this led me to want to make sure that my various preparedness skills were up to date. I have been taking first aid courses since I was a teenager. My last formal certification was probably 10 years ago. I also wanted to get certified in the use of Automated External Defibrillator (AED) machines. So I signed up for a first aid from scratch course that included CPR and AED use, followed by a wilderness first aid (WFA) course. The basic first aid and CPR was taught based on the American Red Cross course, and the WFA was put on for the local Sierra Club chapter by the University of Central Oklahoma (UCO); the course was based on the Boy Scouts of American WFA course.

I was pretty charged up by all of this. I think my expectations were pretty high at learning new skills.

Both courses were taught by experienced professionals who clearly knew their stuff. The material was pretty surprising to me. The emphasis in all cases was to basically collect information for the professional first responders showed up. Sure, stopping arterial bleeding is still a priority, as is CPR for cardiac arrest or stopped breathing. But for almost everything else, it is basically make sure the area is safe and controlled, and call 911.

The WFA course was first basically a study in very conservative risk management. If there is any risk at all, don’t go. Have bad dental work that might cause a toothache? Don’t go. Have a pain in your back (any pain)? Don’t go. The majority of the WFA course was basically the same material that we did during the basic first aid course. We did do some play acting, but the emphasis wasn’t wilderness specific, it was the process for assessing someone who was or might be injured. There was a bit of instruction on how to move someone who was injured (the firemans carry, for example). I think I expected to get some techniques on things like how to make a litter to carry an injured party out of the backcountry, but things like that were not addressed.

There was an emphasis on legal protection in both courses. Numerous times I heard the phrase “according to your company policy”. As an aside, I work for both a large company, and for the USAF under a contract to that large company. I do not recall any policy from either of these organizations petaining to first aid application.

The Red Cross seems to be intoxicated with mnemonics. In the event of an incident, you have ABC (airway, breathing, and circulation checks). There are probably a dozen other mnemonics, some more than six characters. I must confess I do not know all of them.

So I do not know if the combination of courses really did more than just refresh my knowledge base. I think that the more critical thing in a wilderness emergency will be clear-headed thinking followed by improvisation, past basic first aid. I hope I never *have* to put any of the skills to use, but I will make it point to keep the recertifications up over the next couple years. There are other courses that are more advanced, such as wilderness first responder, but I just don’t know how useful that course would be (and it appears that it would involve travel to another state, and takes almost a week to complete).