My own experience with wilderness first aid goes back to before it was a thing. More than 45 years ago, I was an Army Reservist training to be a combat field medic. Our unit was a general hospital on ready alert to leave to support the Vietnam War. Though I was a respiratory tech, like all unit personnel, I had to learn emergency field medicine. Out unit was never called up, but the ready alert status kept my first aid skills honed and up to date.
Learning a skill like that helps in many ways for the mission field. I had been trained to manage tough situations and make do with what I had. I had a kind of crisis time management training that gave me confidence to take charge.
After my mission our team built the Beaver High Adventure Base. During that period I was nearly always the medical officer; we were nearly an hour from a doctor and two from any hospital.
Often, I had to make do in that remote location and my training nearly always gave me the confidence to care for others; it conditioned me able to respond almost without thought. This weekend I could see the youth in this course growing that direction and once again I was grateful for one of the many ways Scouting helps prepare youth for thier missionary service.
Part of BSA’s Wilderness First Aid training is to enable youth and adults to do hard things with confidence. During the course they learn to assess and treat an ill or injured person in a remote environment where care from a doctor or evacuation transport is not quickly available. It also means figuring out solutions to problems with what you have with you. In the end participants get more than first aid training; they walk away as problem solvers with a bit of swagger.
What is Wilderness First Aid?
When calling 9-1-1 is not an immediate option, or when help could be an hour or even days away, the task of managing the injured and the ill can challenge you beyond basic first aid knowledge and skills, like a Scout gains from First Aid Merit Badge. Long hikes, wilderness adventure and backcountry treks may separate someone injured from any medical facility.
In such environments, you may have to endure heat or cold, rain, wind, or darkness. The equipment needed for treatment and evacuation may have to be improvised from what is available, and communication with the “outside world” may be limited or nonexistent. Remote locations and harsh environments may require creative treatments. All these things may be a part of the world of Wilderness First Aid training.
Why is this 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. If you wish to download the curriculum, please register here to download Wilderness First Aid Curriculum and Doctrine Guidelines.
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.
During the course last Saturday and every time we teach it, we cover:
Each subject is reinforced with practice scenarios during and after each section.
However, our main objective is to teach each other from the Wilderness First Aid Field Guide. I love the durable, water-resistant pages in this pocket sized guide. It has essential information that nearly every Scout understands in class and can easily access in the field.
The guide features:
- Essential information for when medical help is more than one hour away.
- How to signal for help
- When to evacuate
- Recommended personal and group first aid supplies
- “What to look for” and “What to do” tables for injuries and illnesses
- Prevention advice ranging from altitude illness and bear attacks to lightning strikes and tick bites
- Heat index and windchill charts
- Quick access to content using an alphabetical format that is a no-brainer when looking up solutions quickly
It was a good weekend. The training is solid. The youth and adults were eager learners. What a great way to get ready for a trek.
What are you doing to get ready for your adventure this summer?
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.