By Darryl Alder
May 17, 2017

Wilderness First Aid—What It Is and Why Should You Care?

With all my training, nothing beats having this in my backpack for reference

Last spring Maria Milligan and I found ourselves together training in First Aid; Maria is a certified lifeguard with Red Cross. As a former Army Medic, I maintain my certification through our BSA partnership with ECSI. When Scoutmaster Austin Rose called to schedule a course for himself, I suggested we include the whole troop.

Usually it’s no big deal for us to do the training,  Troop 1432  from Saratoga Springs was a pretty rambunctious group, but I guess really no more than other Scouts. Teaching these youth in contrast to the adults from the same area I did Wilderness First Aid for a few weeks before, made me worry that they might not get it.

Then I reflected on my own initial first aid training as a young Scout, it was only months after that, I had to do rescue breathing for a neighbor. Later with more training I saved my mother’s life and helped many dozens of other injured people.

What ever you learn, no matter your age, makes you more prepared to help others. These tenets of the Boy Scout movement, preparation and helping are what people expect from us when they are in trouble.

For example, Scout training paid off when “… a man fell while hiking. He landed in a gully …A group of hikers came on the scene soon after the fall. The man was in pain and his wife was trying to help.

“The hiking group broke itself into two teams. One went to fetch a ranger or other help from a station a couple miles away. The other stayed to help the man.

“It turned out he had a broken pelvis. The team that stayed to help immobilized him, treated him for shock, and did everything possible to make him and his wife comfortable. In due time, help arrived and got the man safely to the hospital.”

This report came from G.T. in the Chief Seattle Council. The hikers included members of a Boy Scout troop in that council. Fortunately, those Scouts had taken a back-country-oriented first aid course to prepare for the trip. The lead instructors for the course were Scouters, who, as you can imagine, were immensely pleased to hear the “good turn” their students had done with what they had learned.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is it?
Winderness First AidWilderness First Aid (WFA) is the assessment of and treatment given to an ill or injured person in a remote environment where definitive care by a physician and/or rapid transport is not readily available. A BSA-led task force has developed Wilderness First Aid Curriculum and Doctrine Guidelines. You must be certified through any of the providers listed below. 

Participants will learn how to assess, treat, and (when possible) contain emergencies within the scope of their training. Youth and adult Scout leaders over age 14 are invited to participate and earn their certification and BSA wants to do all it can to promote awareness of this course to help as many Scouts and leaders as possible take the training and earn certification.

“When an emergency occurs in the wild, the goal must be to provide the greatest good for the greatest number in the shortest time, and do no harm in the process.”

Why is the greatest good for the greatest number important?
This course goes far beyond what you may know as “first aid.” While it contains substantial medical information and teaches skills required for medical emergencies in the wild, the deeper purpose is to train participants to manage acute situations. The bottom line is this: Better decision-making at the incident scene miles from base facilities can save valuable time and human resources. It can save lives, too.

Who is it for?
Youth and adult Scout leaders are encouraged to take this first-aid course, which offers a management dimension that most curriculums fail to address. Scout leaders will likely find it the most valuable program they’ll ever take

The first thing you’ll learn to do in this course is establish control. Emergencies, big or small, may be charged with emotion and confusion. Even minor chaos increases the risk of injury to rescuers and bystanders, as well as the risk of inadequate care for the patient. Emergencies most often call for a leader to be directive, at least until the scene is safe and the patient is stabilized. This is best accomplished by discussing leadership in case of an emergency with other members of your party before a potentially critical situation occurs.

Course modules include:

  • Patient assessment

    Each unit is documented in the Wilderness First Aid Fieldbook, making it a vital resource for every back-county trip

  • Chest injuries
  • Shock
  • Head (brain) and spinal injuries
  • Bone and joint injuries
  • Wounds and wound infection
  • Abdominal problems
  • Hypothermia
  • Heat problems
  • Lightning
  • Altitude illnesses
  • Submersion incidents
  • Allergies and anaphylaxis
  • Wilderness first-aid kits

The course finishes up with practice scenarios to make sure Scouts and leaders have internalized the material. 

If you are interested in taking Wilderness First AId with your Team or Crew, contact one of our instructors listed above. 

What are you doing to get ready for your adventure this summer?

Darryl head BW
Author: Darryl Alder | Strategic Initiatives Director, Utah National Parks Council, BSA. He was a combat field medic and respiratory tech with 328th General Hospital in Ft. Douglas, UT and teaches Wilderness First Aid.

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