Emergency in the wilderness? Learn what to do next

Would you know what to do if you found an injured person in the woods, far from a town or hospital?

Two seasoned emergency medical experts were in the Tri-Cities recently to share how to respond to a medical crisis in remote, wilderness areas.

Amy Rosen and Laura Hudecek, with the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS), showed what skills can be critical to saving a life — especially if there’s no cell phone service or other help nearby.

From frost bite and broken bones to burns and snake bites, the key is to identify what is wrong and what to do next.

That starts by staying cool, calm and collected, they said during the two-day course at the Tri-City Court Club in Kennewick.

They don’t perform the same type of response that emergency medical technicians do on an ambulance. They don’t give oxygen or injections.

The wilderness first aid course shows students how to keep people safe and stable.

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Participants in the Wilderness First Aid course at the Tri-City Court Club practiced how to wrap a broken ankle with materials from their day packs including jackets, ropes, sleeping pads, poles, undershirts and ace bandages. Paul Krupin

They are trained to size up the scene for hazards and assess a person’s vital signs and threats to life.

Then, they stabilize the patient and then make critical decisions about how to keep the person safe until help arrives, or whether a slow or even a rapid evacuation is needed.

Responding to emergencies in the back country wilderness can take many hours or even days — whether it’s getting the person out or getting emergency responders in.

Over two days, our group of hikes, backpackers and hunters learned how to tackle unexpected situations and to improvise with whatever equipment we had at hand in our packs.

“This class is helpful to anyone who works or plays in the outdoors or backcountry,” said Jeremy Salinas, one of the class participants and Outdoor Programs & Outreach Market Coordinator at the REI Store in Kennewick. “You gain a new perspective along with knowledge and confidence that can come in handy if you encounter a situation where someone needs help.”

First aid kit basics

A key step is to be prepared by carrying a first aid kit with the things you are most likely to need.

While you can always build your own and add to it.

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Participants in the Wilderness First Aid course at the Tri-City Court Club practice splinting a broken leg with items from their day packs. Paul Krupin

At a very minimum the basics should include: latex or nitrile gloves, antiseptic ointment or lotion, bandages of various sizes, gauze, Ace wraps, tweezers (to remove splinters and clean cuts), and a blister treatment kit.

If you carry these and other tools, you really need to know how to properly use every one of them.

“Prevention and planning are really valuable,” said Salinas. “You don’t know what you are going to encounter. You have to be prepared to deal with the injuries people have in the situations you come upon. You have to be ready to accept reality and the weather and then adapt and use whatever you and your companions have with you”.

The Wilderness First Aid training covers: how to take a pulse, making sure a person can breathe, cleaning and dressing a wound, how to wrap a twisted ankle and immobilize a broken bone, dealing with heat exhaustion and dehydration, altitude sickness, bee stings, shock and much more.

The course focuses on teaching making critical decisions.

Do you leave the person and go for help? Do you help them out slowly, as fast as possible or hunker down and keep them warm and dry?

The more knowledge and training you have, the better decisions you can make.

For more NOLS information visit https://www.nols.edu/en/

Paul Krupin is an avid local hiking enthusiast, retired environmental specialist and a member of the Intermountain Alpine Club (www.imacnw.org). He can be reached at pjkrupin@gmail.com.