From the Vault: WFR

Another post that I found while going through old posts that never got posted!  Not sure why I let all these drafts just sit around for so long… but considering all the adventuring and hiking we do and the “advice” that I give out to other hikers it is so important to talk about first aid and first aid training!  We tend to travel with a pretty light first aid kit and personally, having the knowledge and technical skills to assess and respond to emergencies is worth so much more, and it weighs nothing at all.  Your first aid kit will do you no good if you don’t know how to use what’s inside it and how to stay calm in the face of an emergency!  So take a Wilderness First Responder course!

As I step out of the van a man runs towards me, blood streaming down his face from a gash on his forehead.  He is screaming, “There are people down there, you have to help them!” He points down into the woods, towards a ravine a creek.  I ask him to please sit down so I can take a look at his wound.  Instead he continues to scream and try to grab me, getting blood on my left arm.  I attempt to subdue him, motioning to my team of rescuers to stay in the van.  I ask him his name, which seems to calm him down a little bit, but he refuses to sit and is still agitated that I wont proceed into the woods to help the others.  I am running out of ideas when suddenly I know what to do, “Sir, I am not going to help anyone else until you sit down, calm down, and allow someone to take a look at your head!”  He is shocked, he did not see that coming, and he starts to protest when I say, loudly, “SIT!”  He sits, and my rescuers rush out of the van, one of them stopping to address his wound.  The rest follow me into the woods where we find a women who is dead on arrival and a man who is bleeding from the ears and doesn’t seem to be able to hear us.  Across the stream is a woman who has been shot in the back with an arrow, and further down the trail is a woman who had a tree fall on her, severing her left leg from her body and causing sever bleeding from her right thigh.  I quickly match responders with patients and then was greeted with a camera to the face.  It was my WFR instructor asking how the site was panning out and what my initial assessment was.

By now, hopefully, you have figured out that this wasn’t a real situation, but a staged one that was part of my Wilderness First Responder Course.  It was one of three staged scenarios in which half the class was patients and half the class was responders.  In the above situation I acted as the incident commander, assessing the scene and then directing people to a patient and supporting them and arranging for evacuation as needed.  In the first scenario I was a patient in a car accident with a broken rib and potentially collapsed lung and in the final scenario I helped a diabetic and preformed CPR on a man who had a heart attack.  When we weren’t in the field doing scenarios we were in the classroom, going through an incredible process that does not teach the technical medical name of every disease and medical condition, but instead gives you the information necessary to determine if something is an emergency or not.  In a wilderness setting everything boils down to that: how urgent is an evacuation for this situation… and what basic life support do I need to do in the mean time.

We would have speed-scenarios, like speed dating but with medical conditions, where you and a partner rotated through a circle of scenario cards, switching between patient and responder, and talking through each scenario, reciting symptoms and discussing possible solutions.  At one point we came outside to discover our patients “covered in bees” and we all stayed on the porch until the swarm had dispersed.  Sometimes people would vomit on you and by vomit I mean the instructor would give them oatmeal or banana to hold in their mouth until you showed up and then they would spew it all over you.

It was epic to say the least.  And at night the class would walk across the street for a beer and afterwards I would head home to my personal little yurt, to my bubble of serenity on the Colombia River where I would do my homework (two hours a night) and work on my puzzle (a puzzle so hard that my mom still has not finished it at home).  Can I take a WFR course for the rest of my life?

Update: As I am posting this it has been almost a year since I took this WFR course and I can not tell you how valuable this class has been.  Although I have not had to use any knowledge more in-depth than how to treat a burn or a blister (thank goodness), I feel better being outdoors and working in remote environments thanks to this training.  Now that we are starting a mountaineering course and I am starting a new trails job I am continually thankful for my WFR certification and will continue to take re-certification courses every two-year despite the cost.  I highly suggest a WFR for anyone that spends an ample amount of time hiking, climbing, really anything that is outdoors and further than two hours away from rapid medical assistance.  Make sure you take your course through a highly accredited institution like The Wilderness Medical Institute or Wilderness Medical Associates in order to get your money’s worth!  

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As Edward Abbey said, "An indoor life is the next best thing to a premature burial."

One thought on “From the Vault: WFR

  1. Thanks for sharing this. I took a basic first aid course for my job (a few times over the years), but I never felt like it prepared me to do anything other than put on gloves and administer some Neosporin with a bandaid. LOL. I would feel more confident with some real wilderness training for sure!

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