Wilderness First Aid Training

By Sandra Ferguson
The great outdoors offers a wealth of opportunities, adventures and excitement, but that can quickly go wrong once someone is injured and requires medical attention.

The majority of us live in urban settings where we are accustomed to accessible medical clinics, hospitals, doctors and emergency personnel.  These highly trained professionals are located within our communities and your needs are met no matter what the degree of injury.  This may not be the case in the back country where there may be no cell phone coverage; access to your location could be extremely difficult for rescue members on foot and airborne, in addition to weather factors, terrain, day light and inadequate trip details. 

Planning any trip outdoors takes time and energy prior to setting foot on the trail and having the proper training for your outing is all a part of that plan.  The effort you make will only benefit you and your party in case of an emergency outdoors.  Having proper first aid training can make the difference between life and death in an extreme medical situation.

Wilderness First Aid Certification First aid training comes in many shapes and sizes.  If you’re an avid outdoorswoman and spend time in the mountains, it is valuable training that could save your life or the lives of others.  There is a difference between the basic first aid courses for our everyday lives, as compared to specific wilderness first aid training which is much more complex and requires a different skill level, greater knowledge and specific equipment.

Wilderness First Responder Courses There are varying levels of Wilderness First Aid training from intensive 2-day courses covering wilderness first aid techniques and principals, 40-hour, 5-day courses suited for people employed and recreating in backcountry and wilderness areas, to 80-hour courses for outdoor leaders and professionals. 

20-Hour Course The 2-day course (20 hours) is great for all outdoor recreationalists such as hikers, skiers, paddlers, bikers, hunters, fishers and everyone else.  Preparing for your outdoor adventure requires sport specific skills and techniques, such as physical fitness, mental preparedness, local knowledge and unique gear.  It is critical to include first aid training, as one of those ‘must haves’.  If you are a weekend warrior hiking the trails, a daily rider who shreds the single track or a patient hunter in the backcountry, make sure you have the proper first aid training, a wilderness first aid level that best suits your needs.

40-Hour Course If you require more specific training, the 40-hour, 5-day course will help those who want a more in-depth skill set to deal with serious emergencies and long-term patient management.  As a woman who recreates in the backcountry and enjoys spending time in the wilderness, it is your personal responsibility to have the proper wilderness first aid training to ensure the safety of your group in even the most remote locations in extreme backcountry conditions. 

80-Hour Course Professional outdoor leaders, guides and outdoor medical professionals require specific training certification.  A 10-day comprehensive course is available for these unique groups of individuals who require skills and training to handle first aid situations in remote wilderness areas. 

Re-Certification (3 days)
Once your certification has expired, it is your responsibility to get re-certified.  There are courses dedicated to re-certifying previous wilderness first aid courses. Organizations often do not toss you in with another course - these courses are designed to truly refresh your skills to make you a better first aid'er!

Custom First Aid programs Many companies welcome the opportunity to work with your group to develop and deliver a private First Aid program. Letting them arrange a custom course offering you flexibility in your scheduling, customizing of the content to suit your needs, and bringing the course right to your location!  See list below for reference.

Additional Considerations: Communication It’s important to consider different types of communication as part of your first aid training when preparing for any outdoor adventure.  You may need to call for help, ensure you know the emergency code or phone number for the specific area/country you are travelling in. It could mean access to emergency assistance or not.

The numbers vary in different countries. Educate yourself and be prepared.

For example:
9-1-1     Canada, USA
1-1-2     European Union (EU)
0-0-0     Australia

Different types of direct communication are two-way radios, satellite phones and cellular phones.  If you are carrying two-way radios or satellite phones, make sure you know how to use them.  Understanding that the communication styles are unique to the satellite devices will greatly improve your chances of clear communication in a “10-33” (emergency).  Also note, it is possible that you may NOT get a radio signal in the backcountry, but knowing where you might get a signal is critical to your safety so do your homework. Make use of local knowledge and find out the answers. Collect detailed information from park rangers, wardens and local people so you can pinpoint the exact “10-20” (location) for reception.  “10-4”? (Ok?) 

We have all experienced a cell phone call in the city with poor reception and then the call is dropped.  The chance of this happening in the mountains is high.  Knowing this will empower you to seek out other means of communication and emergency signalling.

Carry your cell phone, fully charged, leaving it off while hikinhiking and only turn it on in case of an emergency.

Trip Plan Having the proper steps in place with regards to your trip plan will greatly assist any search and rescue members in locating you faster and more efficiently in case of a first aid emergency.  You will find a detailed trip plan on the AdventureSmart website at: http://www.adventuresmart.ca/trip_safety/planning.htm

When completing this trip plan, write down the level of wilderness first aid training that everyone in your party has and list the first aid equipment/kits on-site.  This information will inform the search and rescue volunteers what level of certification you and your party currently have which indicates the type of first aid you can administer if necessary.

Pack it in, Pack it out! Recreating in the outdoors is a privilege, one that we value, appreciate, are passionate about and make time for.  Many of us have goals that take us to challenging and remote areas, but it is also our goal to return safely to our family and friends.  As we pack our backpacks, drive our trucks, boats, ATV’s, bikes and snowmobiles and get ready for yet another adventure ahead, make sure you have your wilderness first aid kit tucked in there too, along with your certification!

Happy Trails everyone,