Wilderness first responder training

  • CMC brought in a Wilderness First Response expert to teach us first aid so we could be prepared while leading freshmen on orientation trips in the backcountry. We had been partying every night and everyone was hung over for the talk, but even so, the nonchalance of some group members towards the emergency training put me off. The guy at the front of the room was treated as an outsider. He was dressed like an outdoors guy and wasn't shy about discussing violent injuries or putting his hands on someone to demonstrate the correct way to administer aid. We all laughed nervously when he did this. There was a low chance we would have to use any of the training, but the consequences of failure in a risky situation are huge. I sat through most of the meeting imagining having to face a room full of lawyers and angry, sad parents, and focused the whole way. I thought about saying something to the group but decided that I probably just wanted to show how much I cared about the training. On the whole the benefit from acting cool (acting tired, telling jokes, telling asides) probably outweighed the potential cost of not paying close enough attention to the training.
  • The guy CMC brought in was clearly an expert who flew across the country helping educate people and advising other first responders on the best course of action. He must see people get maimed, mauled or killed every day in the backcountry. When he tries to educate people (us) on how to prevent deaths in the future, we respond by not taking him very seriously. That must have hurt, yet he seemed fairly resigned about the whole process.
  • I was surprised that so much of the treatment focused on correct diagnosis and response and so little focused on overcoming the social pressure to take it seriously. Anyone who's read about Kitty Genovese, the smoke alarm room experiment, or Asch's studies on conformity can tell you that a large component of the response is recognizing the problem. Furthermore, the victim will be under social pressure as well and might insist that they're fine even though they're dizzy, or they're beginning to get hypothermia. Other times victims might try to hide the problem; the most common place to find choking victims is on the floor in the bathroom, unconscious. When I expressed my worries the other leaders said "I think in the real situation we would know how to handle it." I had some confidence they could diagnose problems in freshmen but what if a fellow leader, or a teacher tagging along on the trip, needed treatment? There would be significant chance of social pressure inhibiting response.
  • I was also surprised that the Red Cross, the American Heart Association and our teacher's organization still disagree on the correct method of treatment in many cases. I asked the teacher why and he said that there are tradeoffs in liability, long-term patient safety and knowledge. Red Cross tends to go for "help the patient, deal with liability later" and teaches their courses in the simplest way they can imagine to maximize the chances you remember the training. This was more advanced and often corrected the training I'd gotten last summer for the Red Cross.
  • The teacher often corrected people's misconceptions about symptoms and treatment. Many of these are staggering. Drowning victims, for example, do not flail their arms.

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