Wilderness First Responder: First Aid meets MacGyver
For a long time we have been interested in taking a course in wilderness first aid. Not only do we travel in countries where medical care is less than widely available, but we also spend a lot of time outdoors. Knowing what to do in case of emergency and knowing how to self-treat minor injuries is an extremely useful tool anytime you are going to be off-grid.
The biggest driver of our initiative to get training was a climbing accident we witnessed. A few years ago we were in Tahoe at Big Chief and an unlucky guy climbing next to us had a hold break on him. His foot was in a pocket and as he fell his ankle wedged in the pocket and caught him before his rope did. Ouch. He had a compound fracture, bone sticking out and everything.
Everyone at the wall rallied together to move him to shelter (it had of course, started to rain immediately after he got hurt). Nobody knew what they were doing but the hive mind knew enough to keep him relatively comfortable and call for help.
Even though we had cell service it still took one and a half hours for the medics to reach him. Big Chief is down a long dirt road and then about a 2 mile hike, a portion of which is over pretty rough terrain. Had there been no cell service the response time would probably have doubled.
We kept in touch with the guy and he had to have surgery but made a full recovery. The whole incident got us to thinking about how vulnerable we are when we are out in the woods and how useful it would be to have even a little bit of knowledge about what to do if someone gets seriously hurt.
Choosing a Course
After talking to a few friends who are mountain guides they recommended the wilderness first responder or WFR “woofer” course taught through the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS). This is the mid-level course taught by NOLS. They have a more basic wilderness first aid (WFA) course and an in depth wilderness EMT course.
The WFA is only 3 days of which one whole day is on CPR. The WEMT on the other hand is a full month-long professional course which includes EMT certification. The WFR is a 10 day course tailored to supplying you with a useful yet manageable amount of knowledge and was perfect for our needs.
Wilderness First Responder
In the WFR course you learn about different injuries and illnesses including a severity spectrum of everything from blisters to internal bleeding. The course is designed to help you quickly assess the severity of the problem and to give you tools to know how you can help someone.
It is designed around the most common injuries experienced in the wilderness and includes important knowledge about what can and can’t be done in the event of serious injury. Additionally, it gives you the tools to improvise splints and and other tools using the equipment that you have.
A few of the topics include wound management, dealing with broken bones and dislocations, chest and abdominal illness and injury, cardiac problems, temperature related illness like heat stroke, hypothermia, and frost bite and many others.
The class is taught half in a lecture format and half in a practical format in which you and your classmates play out scenarios of wilderness treatment. The practical portion of the class is extremely helpful for solidifying the facts learned in lecture and getting you more comfortable interacting with patients and feeling confident in your knowledge.
As an added fun factor they also use fake blood and other makeup to make the injuries look more real and to help add gravity to the exercises.
Here are some photos from when Kyle played the victim, check out that fake broken leg and head wound.
Finding a Course
NOLS runs courses all over the US and a few internationally. They are taught in different locations throughout the year. You can find all the details and a schedule on the NOLS website.