NOLS Wilderness First Aid

Today I took day one of a two-day NOLS Wilderness First Aid course at the REI Denver Flagship Store.  Today we learned:

* “Wilderness” (as opposed to urban) is defined in relation to “Time”.  How much time will it take for professional medical help to arrive?  In an urban environment, minutes.  In a wilderness environment, hours.

* With a lot of time on our hands, take a cautious approach to the patient.  NOLS teaches “Don’t just do something, stand there.”  The first step of any scenario at this level is “#1. Assess environment safety”, i.e. is it safe for us to approach the patient?

* The next steps of the initial patient protocol:

#2: “What happened to you?” – Identify possible mechanisms of injury (MOI).

#3: “Not on me.” – Protect yourself from bodily fluids (BSI).

#4: “Are there any more?” – Look for or ask if there are more people hurt.  The person most audible is likely not the person most in need of care.

#5: “Dead or alive?” – Assess the patient’s condition.

We then learned, and practiced: head-to-toe assessment, taking and recording vitals, moving a patient, deciding whether to evac; all while maintaining head control and spinal alignment.  In the second half of the day we covered first aid for head injury, shock, cuts, and abrasions.

This is the first class I’ve taken which uses realistic mock-injury scenarios.  There were 30 students in this class.  For each injury scenario, ten of us acted as patients while the remaining twenty worked in pairs as rescuers for a victim.  The victims had realistic-looking blood, bruises, abrasions, and cuts and we were given a script to follow which said what our injury was, how it occurred, our level of responsiveness (LOR) and other “facts”.  As rescuers these drills presented slightly realistic scenarios of incidents which could occur in the wilderness and great opportunities for hands-on practice.


Wilderness first aid combines logic, compassion, and outdoors into one activity, and I like it. I think I’ve found a new interest.  I plan to take Wilderness First Responder training next summer.  Being a Wilderness First Responder such as a search and rescue (SAR) volunteer would be interesting and fulfilling as well as make me more prepared for family outings to the mountains.

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