Waking up in the passenger seat of his friend's car on a recent trip to Jackson Hole, Nate Smith expected to see the canine tooth of Grand Teton reaching across the sky. Instead, he saw a wrecked motorcycle on the side of highway 189 and a small gaggle of men standing around a body. In a split second, Smith's one-day bouldering vacation turned into a medical-response incident.
Luckily, Smith—co-founder of Mountain Education & Development LLC (MED), a Salt Lake City-based outdoor recreation and medical training company—was well-equipped and trained for just such situations. Even though the incident was along a highway and not in the backwoods, the remote location and slow response time from the local emergency medical system made his wilderness first-aid knowledge invaluable.
Pulling over, Smith and his friends grabbed a medical kit out of the back of the car, slipping on a pair of gloves as they approached the scene. The motorcyclist, who had lost control coming out of a bend along the dangerous Hoback Canyon road, had flipped multiple times. He had not been wearing a helmet. The situation looked grim, but, remaining professional and calm, Smith began assessing the victim.
Whether it's an automobile accident on the side of a remote highway, a snake bite on the Bonneville Shoreline Trail, a broken femur while canyoneering in the desert, or a bad fall while back-country skiing, wilderness first aid (WFA) training—or the more in depth wilderness first responder training—is essential knowledge for anyone who goes anywhere more than an hour away from professional medical assistance.
Starting Sept. 8, Smith and some MED colleagues will be teaching a four-evening wilderness first aid class hosted by Black Diamond and held at the Black Diamond store. The class will cover emergency basics, starting with patient assessment, how to conduct a head-to-toe exam and how to check vitals. Students will learn the best responses to major injuries such as head trauma and spinal injuries, and to address common threats like sprains and allergic reactions. The class will also help dispel medical myths such as what to do for snakebites (Answer: Don't suck out the venom, keep the victim's heart rate low and get them to a hospital for the anti-venom).
MED classes are hands-on and scenario-based, with an emphasis on student discussion and problem solving. The course is recognized nationally; upon successful completion, students receive a two-year certification. Check out MountainED.com for upcoming classes.
"Anyone who is going to recreate outside, especially if they have family and take kids, should have wilderness first-aid training," Smith says. "A good introduction to these concepts will help people recognize emergency situations and, when there isn't an EMT around the corner, have the practical tools to take care of common or simple problems. When you're out there, you need to feel comfortable improvising, using a shirt to stop bleeding or turning a trekking pole into a splint. Taking a [wilderness first aid] course can be really eye-opening."
The course can also be helpful in ways not immediately apparent. Being able to handle such situations calmly, professionally and with confidence can make it easier to recover from the experience afterward.
It's a profound feeling, Smith says, reflecting on his own recent experience with the motorcycle crash. Even after the fire marshal and an ambulance arrived, Smith and his friends remained active on the scene. "We integrated right into the EMS system," Smith says. "We were able to assist through the whole process."