Spring break is right around the corner, and if you’re feeling the pull to jump out of class and head into the outdoors, you are certainly not alone. Like most on our fair, spring-tinted campus, you probably can’t wait to leave the classroom for a break from the focus and concentration required of you to finish up those last straggler papers, and cram in your last hours worth of studying before your finals. You may have plans to go on some extravagant trip, or just to relax and spend a few precious days without the pressure of looming assignments and tests hanging over your head. Or you may be one of the renegade students taking the Wilderness First Responder Course offered by the Outdoor Center. The 10-day class gives students a solid overview of how to handle medical emergencies in the backcountry, while simultaneously providing both CPR Certification and 70 hours of approved emergency medical training.

“This course is pretty much the industry standard for people who want to guide in the outdoors, in the wilderness,” said Rebecca Nelson, the Administrative Assistant at the OC, who also works in their equipment shop and is a trip leader. “Basically, it’s first aid, but it’s what’s considered ‘wilderness first aid.’” She explained the term ‘wilderness’ or ‘backcountry’ constitutes a place where you are “at least one hour away from a hospital or definitive care.” These terms are generally used to reference remote outdoor locations.

Skilled instructors from the Wilderness Medical Institute teach this handy course in lifesaving 101. All the instructors are wilderness EMT’S and many have further training. Nelson said that the class weaves between lecture, practicing of vital medical skills like checking blood pressure, and practice scenarios, where students get to apply the skills and information they are learning to hands-on situations, simulating emergency conditions. “They’ve got fake blood and bruising stuff,” she said, “so [the practice scenarios] are really real.”

“The course is very hands-on, and the instructors really care about the students. They show you to think critically- and sometimes purposely give you a situation where you can’t figure out what to do. There is a lot of focus on patient care in the long term, because something could happen where you’re out there for a long time with limited resources,” she said.

One of the things that makes this class unique is the focus it brings to elements of thrift and craftiness in handling a challenging medical situation. “There’s talk about being creative, because when you’re out in the wilderness, there are a lot of factors, and you only have so many supplies. You have to make these calls. There are environmental things like hypothermia, dehydration, sunburn and shock that you have to deal with on top of the medical emergency. If you can prevent the onset of one of these symptoms, you are way ahead of the game,” said Nelson.

“The course prepares you to know the patient assessment, and even if you can’t figure out what’s wrong with them, you have the tools to critically think and make a decision as to whether this person needs a quick evacuation, a rapid evacuation, or if they can stay in the field. You have the basics, so if you have a radio, you can call for help, tell them the pulse, vital sign, etc., and be able to provide whatever information the rescuers need.” Nelson said this course is a must for, “anyone who’s outside a lot, especially who does dangerous things outside. It’s a lot of information you’re not going to get any other way, and it could save a life.” She added that if you are planning on guiding any type of outdoor experience, the course gives you an absolutely essential base of knowledge.

According to Nelson, one of the greatest things students take away from the class is the ability to apply the skills they learn to any number of life experiences. “Getting in the mindset of thinking critically, being aware of your environment, and knowing that if you get into a situation that you can stay calm and react to it well are great skills– even outside of a medical emergency.” Perhaps after taking this course, you could even help yourself and your friends to remain calm and productive in the midst of the stresses and madcap adrenaline sprint that signify the end of any academic quarter.

As for myself, I must say that I admire the studious focus of the students enrolled in this intensive class. For the duration of our school break, they will be spending eight hours of their day in a classroom, beefing up on their outdoor rescuer skills. Though the class is currently full, if you would like to join you can call the OC and put your name on the waiting list. If it doesn’t work out this time around, the course will be offered again next year, timed accordingly with both the winter and spring breaks.

For more information, or to put your name on the waiting list for the Wilderness First Aid course, call the OC at 650-7568.