Intensive half-block WFR class teaches survival skills

Shivering, I looked incredulously between my rescuer and the bloody mess of a bone protruding from my shin. Puffs of warm breath drifted between the group huddled around me, thick in the below-freezing air. As my rescuer and her team checked my vitals and explored my body for further trauma, I was peppered with questions: “What’s your name? Does anything else hurt? Can you take two deep breaths for me? Can you feel this? Are you allergic to anything?”

I swallowed and answered obligingly, trying to stay calm. The group of four squatted around me in the dark. After they cleaned my wound and had finished with their questions, they informed me they would pull traction on my leg before splinting it and then hunkering down for the night. When they did so, I screamed.

After using materials from our day packs to splint my leg, the group of five huddled together and tried to stay warm. Three hours later, a man approached us from down the trail. He inspected my leg and told us that we were ok to head down to the parking lot.

My rescuers were actually Wilderness First Responders in training, and the piece of bone was a stick. The stage makeup was impeccable and the care I received was stellar. This four-hour ordeal was one of the many scenarios in which WFRs take part during the 10-day intensive course taught over half block at Colorado College.

Although the scenarios and blood were fake, for many of these intense scenarios, the adrenaline is real. Eight-hour class days were interspersed with scenarios such as these, ranging from fake asthma attacks and broken clavicles to depression and hypothermia. The WFRs-in-training were expected to learn to reduce dislocations, treat a ‘sucking chest wound,’ and backboard patients, among other things.

Wilderness First Responder is a required certification for many guiding and camp jobs, as well as upper-level Outdoor Recreation Club leadership positions. The Ritt Kellogg Fund requires that all its participants are WFR-certified. The course, although intense, was interesting and engaging as our class of 30 students was forced to work together and improvise.

Vastly different from other first aid certifications, the wilderness component makes this course challenging and admittedly frightening. For most of the more serious injuries, even a WFR cannot help much; the injured person needs a hospital. The job of a WFR in this case is to recognize these problems and stabilize the patient until better help arrives in the form of search and rescue, ski patrol, or even a helicopter.

This is not to say that WFRs cannot help in serious situations. Using trekking poles and spare layers, we learned how to stabilize a broken femur or create a makeshift litter. The endless lists of acronyms are a testament to the sheer amount of knowledge absorbed in those days – they help remind a WFR of the order of a checkup, the important highlights to tell dispatch, the “stop-and-fix” problems, or what may cause a brain to stop functioning.

Newly certified WFR and CC freshman Jamie Sarafan admitted, “I don’t really want to ever have to use many of these skills, but now if I need to, I can. I was just hired to be an ice climbing guide, and this is pretty important stuff.”

Although time-consuming, the WFR course offered at CC is a great opportunity to learn imperative skills alongside familiar faces. For more information on Wilderness First Responders or the Wilderness Medicine Institute, see their webpage at www.nols.edu/wmi/. To learn more about WFR courses at CC, contact Elizabeth Pudder at epudder@coloradocollege.edu.

Kayla Fratt

Guest Writer

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