“It’s OK…I’m a WFR!”

By Natalie Janovak

Suppose you’re skiing the backcountry and someone in your party wraps his leg around a tree and goes unconscious. Can you intervene and potentially save his life using only what’s around you and in your pack? Hopefully, you carry duct tape…

Resourcefulness is but one of the many skills carried within the Wilderness First Responder’s pack. After resuscitating your friend with CPR and sending someone to call 911, you can stabilize his cervical spine with one of your fleece layers then go to work on his injuries. Get him off the ground and bundle him up to stave off shock and use your balaclava to apply pressure to any open wounds. Then, widget a splint with your shovel and skins to stabilize the leg fracture and induce traction. If waiting for the cavalry to arrive is not an option, use his skis, poles and that trusty roll of duct tape to build a makeshift litter then haul him out of there. Tap into your inner MacGyver, because in the backcountry the possibilities for illness and injury are endless while the priority of a WFR remains the same: discover and treat threats to life until emergency medical personnel arrives.

WFRs are trained to respond to emergencies in the middle of nowhere, at any elevation and under any weather condition. Adequate preparation, first aid/CPR skills and keen situational awareness while playing on nature’s playground is essential, but when you add a detailed assessment of illness/injury and the ability to take and monitor vital signs to the mix, a WFR can become someone’s hero for the hour.

Under the engaging guidance of AWLS (Advanced Wilderness Life Support) and WFR-certified instructors, these essential skills can be learned in two weeks through Wilderness Medicine of Utah. WMUT offers WFR and Wilderness First Aid (WFA) certification courses targeted to those who engage in backcountry sports and activities for work and play, and the accredited curriculum emphasizes prevention, management, and evacuation techniques for medical problems in the wilderness environment. The WFR course is a thorough and fluid exploration of basic physiology and first aid as it applies to an exhaustive list of ailments, everything from treating blisters, bleeding, shock, burns and exposure to head and spine injuries, animal bites, anaphylaxis, near-drowning, lightening strikes and poisoning. WFRs even learn how to deliver a breech baby. The class lectures extend into practical application with scenarios that are presented on periodic group hikes along the Shoreline Trail.

This course blows the lid off the fear factor that is inherent in emergency situations because it teaches you to react methodically with flexibility and confidence. WFR skills are essential for anyone’s tool bag. Whether you’re in the wilderness or urban jungle you will be empowered to use your resources appropriately, tempered with basic medical judgment and skills. Visit wmutah.org for more information, and go get your MacGyver on!

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