Wilderness First Responder training readies students for remote rescues

It looked like an emergency scene straight out of a news broadcast.

On the Niagara Escarpment, on the north side of Brock’s main campus, a rescue effort was underway.

Recreation and Leisure Studies students, along with several community members, could be seen tending to injured parties while working with limited resources to address the situation in what was imagined to be a remote locale.

The emergency medical simulations, part of a third-year Wilderness First Responder Course, took place over eight consecutive days that coincided with Reading Week.

Recreation and Leisure Studies student Gerry Coyle and McMaster University student Katrine Gaboury conduct a health assessment on participant Guy Mott, an outdoor educator from Ithaca, N.Y., during an emergency simulation exercise at Brock University.

The intensive 80-hour course culminated on Saturday, Feb. 23 with a series of realistic, mental and physically-intensive exercises.

“The 24 participants ran several scenarios, which stressed the importance of how to make appropriate medical decisions in a wilderness environment,” says Recreation and Leisure Studies Undergraduate Program Co-ordinator and Academic Advisor Mike Fawkes. “This included learning how to respond to individuals in various distress situations and how to assess whether an immediate evacuation by helicopter is required.”

The hands-on simulated learning included in-field treatment of conditions such as hypothermia, heat exhaustion, asthma, anaphylaxis and choking; response to multi-casualty scenarios that required participants to create improvised splints for transporting patient’s long distances over land; and analysis of whether an in-field reduction of a shoulder, patella or finger(s) is needed to return it to its normal position following a dislocation.

“Learning the difference between various scenarios is essential if an emergency occurs in a remote area,” explains Experiential Education Co-ordinator, Outdoor Recreation Liz Kirk, who also participated in this year’s training. “For example, life-threatening issues need to be identified and responded to immediately, whereas less serious issues, after a patient assessment, may only require monitoring and wound cleaning.”

Dave Briggs (left), who leads wilderness expeditions in Canada’s High Arctic, assists with a patient assessment alongside Health Sciences student Madi Marshall, Applied Health Sciences graduate student Lewis Lau and fourth-year Brock Recreation and Leisure Studies student Brett Wren (standing). Recreation and Leisure Studies student Amanda Payton had simulated injuries during the exercise.

The experiential centred course is designed to teach and develop skills in wilderness first aid in remote settings, engagement in outdoor emergency scenarios and strategies for evacuation of patients. Participants learn leadership and critical thinking skills applicable in isolated and extreme environments.

“This experiential education course wasn’t originally on the schedule to be offered this year,” explains Fawkes. “Due to the high volume of student and community interest, we reached out to Wilderness Medical Associates Canada to collaborate in offering this course.”

The course requires 100 per cent participation, in-class training, homework assignments and written quizzes, demonstrated proficiency with practical skills and a successful grade on a final written exam.

“This is the first time we have partnered with Wilderness Medical Associates Canada based in Owen Sound,” says Fawkes. “We have received positive feedback from the participants about the high-quality training they received from instructors with real-life emergency critical care and industry experience.”

Brock University’s wilderness training course also accepted individuals from the community who were interested in receiving the training as part of their ongoing professional certification.

“This course is similar to Standard First Aid and CPR training, whereby professionals need to update their certification every few years,” explains Kirk.

“There are essential skills practised in this course that could help to save a life, but they are presented in terms of a wilderness context where advanced medical care could be several hours away,” Kirk says. “This is what motivated me to participate again. There’s nothing better than re-training in a simulated environment to help me remain confident in my knowledge.”

Brock students and community members respond to a multi-casualty simulation scenario during recent Wilderness First Responder training.

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