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If there was a car accident in front of your house, would you know what to do? Or if a family member fell and broke their leg while on a hike? Would you know the right steps to take if you cut your hand while preparing dinner? Maybe these seem like easy questions to answer — but would you be able to swiftly do the proper thing while your heart raced and your adrenaline was pumping? Most of us feel like we would know what to do in an emergency, that we would instinctively take a good course of action. But the truth is, most of us won’t know what to do when an accident, illness, or trauma strikes. Which is why everyone should have first aid training.
I recently spent a few days recertifying as a wilderness first responder — a certification that I’m glad that I initially earned over the course of 10 days in 2020. I’m equally glad that I’ve never needed to use it.
Recertifying was a fun experience — I honed some skills, picked up a few new ones, and got to hang out with some outdoor professionals of all ages. But the experience was also an interesting reminder. I was reminded just how little we know about taking care of ourselves, and others, in the case of an emergency. Accidents happen. They can’t all be avoided, but we can prepare ourselves to deal with them when they occur.
How to be more prepared
One of the best, and easiest things you can do to be more prepared is to take first aid training. You don’t have to spend $1,000 to attend a NOLS course and become a Wilderness First Responder (although , no lie, I highly recommend it). Just start with a CPR and basic first aid course. These are available in many communities through the Red Cross and other organizations. Just looking at the Red Cross options, you can take a basic First Aid course and a CPR course for just $35 each. That’s $70 for both. That’s not a very high price to pay in order to have a higher level of preparedness. Not gonna lie, I’ve blown more than that in a night out before. You probably have too.
Then, if you do spend a lot of time playing in the great outdoors, I do recommend taking a wilderness first aid course. There’s a difference between managing an injury where an ambulance is 10 minutes away versus managing an injury when help is perhaps a day or two away, and a wilderness first aid course is a good step toward being more competent medically in the field.
The NOLS model
Then, if you found that interesting, and you would like a deeper understanding of what to do, then I would encourage you to become a Wilderness First Responder — especially if you’re responsible for the safety and well-being of others in an outdoor or wilderness context. You have a options available, but I really do like the NOLS model and philosophy and think that their wilderness first aid program is top notch. Just as important as the base knowledge is the ability to act, and NOLS’s approach to this is effective — first they teach you a Patient Assessment System through which everything else proceeds, then they run you through “scenarios” where you have to interact with a fellow student acting in a simulated experience. It may not sound intimidating, but with moulage and stage makeup, there’s an element of realism that helps you get used to treating a patient when your own heart rate is elevated and you’re feeling the effects of adrenaline.
I have never used my wilderness first aid or wilderness first responder skills in an emergency situation. I’ve never had to apply a tourniquet or have someone evacuated. But the training has come in handy as far as helping me keep my cool in first aid situations, and to better understand the nature of injuries when they have occurred. That’s why I recertified — I don’t want to ever be in a situation where I have to help evacuate someone, but I want to know that I’m ready if I need to. Further, by having this knowledge and training, I’m better able to keep myself — and others — from requiring evacuation. There’s an element of risk management involved here too.
Everyone needs first aid training
At the end of the day, we exist in a world that we can’t control. What we can control is ourselves. I believe that one of the best investments anyone can make is in themselves — that’s what first aid training is. It’s an investment in your competence and confidence. Even in a setting where help is just a phone call away, feeling assured in your ability to handle a situation can make a huge difference.