Wilderness First Responder training recap

There was no one reason why I decided to take a Wilderness First Responder (WFR) course and get WFR certified. There are many descriptions for the WFR program, but all follow this rough description:

“The definitive wilderness course in medical training, leadership, and critical thinking for outdoor, low-resource, and remote professionals and leaders.

The Wilderness First Responder program is the ideal medical training for leaders in remote areas including outdoor educators, guides, military, professional search and rescue teams, researchers, and those involved in disaster relief. The curriculum is comprehensive and practical. It includes the essential principles and skills required to assess and manage medical problems in isolated and extreme environments for days and weeks if necessary.” [1]

In the U.S., WFR is the nationally recognized standard for outdoor professionals. I knew a WFR certification was a prerequisite for becoming an AMGA Rock Guide, so that was certainly a consideration. But, more importantly, I wanted to feel like I was prepared to deal with a medical situation in the wilderness and/or backcountry. While my days of spending a lot of time many hours/miles/days away from a road are somewhat behind me, there are still a number of situations I can be in, either alone or as a group, where medical attention is delayed.

So when my friend and frequent climbing partner asked if I wanted to take a WFR course, I said, Sure! even though a WFR course is a significant time commitment (70 to 80 hours) and a fair chunk of change.

We had some constraints: the course had to be within 300 miles of the Boston area, and it had to be in January 2016. I suggested the condensed 5-day WFR course  (WFR courses typically take place over 7 days) offered by Wilderness Medical Associates since a) it would require less vacation days, and b) overall costs (accommodation etc) would be cheaper. Dave, being the good sport he is, agreed to my plan.

The condensed version of this course made for very long days. But I learned a ton. Aside from theory, the course really focuses on scenarios and the practical aspect of rescues. I found the latter to be the most useful thing for me.  It is one thing to learn, have the knowledge and understanding of what you should do given a particular circumstance. But it is a different think to be able to make decisions in a very stressful situation (severity of injuries, poor weather conditions, shitty evac options etc.)

Making a body splint for a full pelvic and leg fracture out of sticks, foam and paracord. I am the one in dark blue. Oh, I didn't bring a brush with me so I ended up looking like a Gremlin towards the end of the course.

Making a body splint for a full pelvic and leg fracture out of sticks, foam and paracord. I am the one in dark blue. I didn’t bring a brush with me so I ended up looking like a Gremlin towards the end of the course.

One benefit to taking the course in Central Maine in the middle of January is that we got a lot of practice working through these scenarios in very cold, snowy conditions. That is probably more realistic, and it also helped me practice how to make and apply decisions under stressful and inclement conditions. I definitely get stupid and shut-down when I am very cold.

WFR pic_splinting

Here I am splinting an injured skiers fractured and heavily wounded leg. Since I neither have a beard, nor am I blonde, you can guess who I am in the photo.

I learned how to do the appropriate scene and patient assessments, how to record this information and relay it to a rescue team (e.g. medical/helicopter dispatch); different techniques to treat injuries in the field, different evacuation options. And, most importantly, how to put all this together to maximize the likelihood that the patient has his/her best possible outcome.

I did realize, however, how important being able to lift and carry a person/people is. I felt bad that I was limited here. I could manage carrying a litter with other people, but I still could pull my “full” weight. Obviously, I have a pretty good explanation for this, but I still felt bad.

My buddy is 6’4″ and around 210 lbs; so he is a total clydesdale and was able to be the workhorse in a lot of these practice scenarios.

Practicing a carry-out.

Practicing a carry-out.

Later, in the car ride back, Dave asked me, so, do you think you could carry me out in a rescue situation. I said, hell no and that he was fucked. While there is some truth there, perhaps, I am aware that having the skills to perform basic life support and treat illnesses and injuries in remote settings is a very useful skill for myself and my partners. And it feels pretty good to be WFR certified.

[1] https://www.wildmed.com/wilderness-medical-courses/first-response/wilderness-first-responder/

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