Experiental Learning at its Finest

21 10 2011

Instead of heading to the hills last weekend, a dedicated group of outdoor adventurers gathered at Eugene’s Fire & EMS Training facility for the Wilderness Medicine Institute’s (W.M.I.) Wilderness First Aid class, hosted by the River House. Local W.M.I. instructors Roger Bailey and Dan Howells facilitated this engaging course, using a combination of outdoor scenarios and classroom lessons. Realistic practice scenarios are the cornerstone of WMI’s very experiential wilderness medicine courses. Complete with moulage (sometimes-gruesome mock injuries, applied with paint and other props), variable weather, and stunned patients, these scenarios allow participants to practice responding to common medical emergencies that one might come across in the backcountry.

This course’s scenarios included a patient who was knocked off his mountain bike by an antelope; a Waldo Ultramarathon

Even the classroom sessions have "flair." Here, Roger role-plays a female climber while discussing illnesses that require evacuation from the backcountry.

runner with hyponatremia; and an elk hunter who had slipped off a log into a creek bed. In between scenarios, Roger and Dan gave classroom lessons on a plethora of skills, from how to splint a broken arm or leg using improvised materials, to administering epinepherine to stop a life-threatening allergic reaction. The 24 participants, 6 of whom are River House staff, were from all over Oregon and range from river guides to ski patrollers, and sailors to search & rescue. Some were updating their Wilderness First Responder certificates and others had urban medical experience. Ultimately, they hope not to find themselves in backcountry situations that require them to use what they learned.  

WFA participants enjoying a rare opportunity to learn from Eugene's Life-Flight pilots and paramedics.

Besides the scenarios, another highlight of this course was a lesson in helicopter evacuation safety by the local Life-Flight crew, which is based out of Eugene’s Fire & EMS Training Facility. The pilot and paramedics gave the WFA participants an overview of what to expect if a helicopter needs to be called: how to prepare a landing zone, where to be and where not to be, and what the experience might be like for a patient. Seeing the cramped inside of the helicopter was enough to remind us about the importance of preventing serious injuries from happening, which was also a focus of the course.

For people who are interested in learning more about wilderness medicine, the River House offers courses periodically throughout the year. As always, these courses are scenario-based, with an emphasis on prevention and decision-making. The next class will be W.M.I.’s Wilderness First Responder (W.F.R.) Course, March 23-April 1, 2012. It is an 80-hour course (10 days, with 2 evening sessions, and one day off) that focuses on patient assessment, injury care, patient evacuation, and extended care. For those who are already WFR-certified, there will be a WFR Re-certification class April 6-8, 2012. Call 541-682-5329 for details. Register at www.nols.edu/wmi/ or 307-332-7800.

 Written by Jess Land, River House Instructor.

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