Wilderness first aid classes for when 911 isn’t an option

Miles McDonough stood in front of a group of Forest Service workers and asked for a volunteer.

A moment late, Julien Inclan stepped forward to volunteer and had his arm doused in a healthy quantity of fake blood. The watching students groaned a bit in sympathy.

“I did warn you,” McDonough said, “that volunteering gets messier as the day goes on.”

McDonough is an instructor for Seattle-based Remote Medical International, which teaches people the skills to deal with medical emergencies in the backcountry.

McDonough likes adventures. He’s a climber and backcountry skier who spends a lot of time in wild, remote places. Several years back, after a few close calls, he decided he needed to take one for the team and enroll in a wilderness first aid course.

“The course really resonated with me,” he said. In fact, it resonated so much that he soon took an EMT course. Then he joined Everett Mountain Rescue and the Snohomish County Helicopter Rescue Team. He still works with those groups, in addition to teaching for Remote Medical International.

Some of the RMI students are simply day hikers, people who want to feel prepared for outdoor recreation. But rmi also teaches industry professionals such as youth group leaders, wilderness guide and physicians traveling to remote areas, and medical staff that work in hard-to-reach areas.

RMI is based in Seattle and offers a number of courses all over the world, with a high volume in the Seattle and Bellingham area.

McDonough taught a course recently in Darrington for Forest Service workers.

The skill set is different than first aid training for urban areas. If you break your arm in the city, for instance, 911 will likely get you help within minutes. If you break your arm while 20 miles from the nearest road, things are quite different.

The classes really teaches people how to think. Students learn how to do a thorough patient assessment and how to know what problems must be treated immediately, and what can wait.

McDonough says the course teaches people the skills that allow them to identify a life-threatening condition or injury with a very limited skill set. It also shows them how to stabilize that person while additional help is coming in.

Allison Hudec of Mukilteo will work this summer as a wilderness ranger out of Skykomish. She took the class for her job.

“I will be working with the public,” she said, “and they will go to the person in the uniform if they’re hurt.”

She is also glad to have taken the class for other reasons. Last summer, long before the class, she was in a serious head-on collision on U.S. 2. A driver crossed the centerline and hit her vehicle. She and her children were hurt in the crash. She was scared and desperate but no one came to their aid until the police arrived, she said.

If she ever comes across a similar situation, she doesn’t want to feel helpless. She now has a well-stocked first aid kit in her car. Her kit for her hiking pack has been updated now, too, after what she learned in the course.

“I’m glad to have the tools to diagnose and assess the situation rather than just walking up on a person and saying ‘Oh, you look bad,’” she said. “I feel much more prepared for whatever life could throw your way.”

Wilderness First Aid

WFA is a course designed for the average recreationist who likes to spend time in the outdoors. It’s 16 hours of instruction and covers a wide range of information including patient assessment, shock, head injuries, spinal injuries, respiratory and cardiac emergencies, allergic reactions, hypothermia, heat stroke, altitude sickness and more. The course is typically held over two days. Many courses are held in Seattle or Bellingham. For more information on courses, check their website or call 206-686-4878. Students must be 18 or older, or 16 or older with approval by a parent or guardian. The courses do not teach CPR.

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