A Course to Take Before any Expedition

Wilderness First Aid - Canmore

What do you do when you are in the middle of nowhere and your or your cycling partner are injured or sick and you can’t call EMS?

Mike and I participate in a lot of outdoors activities including sea kayaking, mountain biking, hiking,  and rock climbing,  in addition our jobs requires us to be outside and in remote locations all the time where many things can go wrong very fast. With our lifestyle, it’s a wonder that neither of us has been seriously hurt during any of our outdoor pursuits.

It wasn’t until Mike and I took our Sea Kayak Assistant Overnight Guide course (through Rainforest Kayak Adventures) in September 2009, that we even considered taking an Advanced Wilderness 1st Aid course. Considering our up-coming bike tour, the locations we plan on traveling, and my clumsiness (remembering the time when I chopped the tip of my finger off cutting kindling, numerous over the handle-bars bike spills, etc.), we felt this course was a necessity.

In April 2011, we registered for an 80 hour Wilderness First Responder course through Wilderness Medical Consultants (WMC). This course is a requirement for most people in Canada in the guiding and outdoor industry. It is extremely intense, but full of practical information and life-like scenarios for practice.

Elbow Re-Alignment Demo

The class size is small (~8 students) to 2-4 instructors depending on the content. The course requires a pre-course assignment that is required as part of your final mark; days are on average between 9-10 hours with reading and studying in the evening and a presentation in the middle of the course. You do however get a one day break in the middle as a break to catch up and to get out and get some exercise. The days are long and information packed, but I could not imagine making the course shorter for all the content that is covered, or longer for the sake of attention span.

WMC is the only company in Canada that has a medical doctor as their lead instructor (Dr. John Peachell), and co-owner Shelley Secord, has a background training as a Wilderness Emergency Medical Technician (WEMT) and Wilderness Emergency Medical Responder (WEMR). This soon to be husband and wife team strongly compliment each other and have tons of experience and practical knowledge to bring to the course.  In addition, WMC requires all staff to be minimally trained as an EMT and all staff  through their won lifestyles are extremely knowledgeable and all participate in various outdoor activities.

Femur splint

Most people have taken a Standard First Aid course but in our opinion, the content has a very narrow application and typically only applies to an urban setting where EMS is easily accessible. Although the basic fundamentals are the same between the two courses, wilderness 1st aid focuses on doing what you can with what you have. The course emphasizes thrifty use of available materials, analytical skills, and since it is 80 hours in total, the major focus is to practice your learned skills through scenarios to get the process really drilled into you.

Scenarios are developed to emulate several realistic situations and with the use of stage make-up to make it as realistic as possible, rather than getting recruits from the local ER ward. We practiced applications for head injuries, broken femur, impaled objects, and even an evening triage scenario.

The course curriculum covers a variety of topics and includes:

  • scene survey;
  • A (airway), B (breathing) and C (circulatory) management;
  • CPR;
  • hypothermia & dehydration;
  • water toxicity
  • altitude illness;
  • diving emergencies;
  • respiratory illness;
  • drowning and near drowning;
  • field water disinfection;
  • treatment of dislocations;
  • splinting; and
  • medical-legal implications.

Both of us feel more comfortable having gone through this course to look for serious signs that would require evacuation and also how to splint almost anything from a simple SAM splint and triangular bandages, make a Looking at our upcoming trip, I am sure we’ll use several applications we learned from this course, not saying we plan on getting hurt but things like heat exhaustion, dehydration, altitude sickness and minor abrasions and cuts are very possible. This course taught us skills on how to splint (utilizing a simple SAM splint, bandages, therm-a-rest), how to make stretchers out of a tarp, jackets, or a rope, and even how to build a semi-ridged litter for helicopter evacuation.

Not only was the course informative, but the people, both instructors and students really made the course a success. Over the 9 day course period you get to know your classmates and the instructors really well, there is an overwhelming sense of team by mid-course and throughout the duration you are working quite closely. It was an inspiration to see how the whole class developed and advanced together, picking out natural leaders and utilizing the skills through out  the group to work through the scenarios. The combined knowledge of the classroom was astounding and a wonderful experience to see how complete strangers could and together by the end of the course.

For anyone pursuing outdoor activities and/or traveling in places where medical facilities may not be overly accessible, we highly recommend this course. You learn a lot and the content is intense, but I am sure we will utilize various skills we learned throughout our expedition,  and the rest of our lives, if not on ourselves but to help others.

A little further information:

  • WFR course is good for 3 years before a refresher,
  • WFR is recommended to re-take after 6 years.

Photos courtesy of Wilderness Medical Consultants and Jody Goodwin and used with permission.

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