Wilderness First Responder course teaches lifesaving skills

August 20 2008

On a warm afternoon in mid-August, wilderness first responders gathered around a man lying on the ground and listened as he explained how he had lost his feeling in his legs. The group assessed the situation and set about creating a response plan using the limited supplies they had with them in the woodland setting.

Luckily, at least this time, it was only a drill.

The 20 outdoor enthusiasts were spending a week at the Indiana State University Field Campus as part of a Wilderness First Responder course. A 70-hour certification course offered by Wilderness Medical Associates, the program trains participants to save lives in extreme and remote settings where calling 911 isn't an option.

"The scenarios and simulations WMA uses are very hands-on and extremely experiential," said Nathan Schaumleffel, an assistant professor of recreation and sport management at ISU. "They use so many unique teaching methods in this course to teach students important concepts."

Schaumleffel was pleased that he was able to offer the training for the first time. He and Susan Yeargin, an assistant professor of athletic training, coordinated the event.

Each day of the course featured lectures and class discussion, followed by outdoor practical skills training. The scenarios got harder as the lessons progressed.

"We teach them not to rely on equipment, but to be resourceful," said Brad Sablosky, an instructor with Wilderness Medical Associates.

While many of the participants are actively working in the outdoors, Schaumleffel said the program would also be ideal for nursing majors or other undergraduates from the College of Nursing, Health, and Human Services training for careers in medical, recreational, health or environmental fields.

"Every department could have students out here and they would learn something new for their major," he said. "It's a great way to see the larger picture of how our fields relate and to teach teamwork among disciplines and a variety of professionals."

Michael Clendenen, a recreation management and youth leadership major at Indiana State, enjoys outdoor activities and wanted to be prepared should he ever be faced with an emergency.

"I might actually be saving people's lives," he said.

Clendenen, a freshman from Fort Wayne, said the lessons from the wilderness course helped prepare him for his first year of college and solidify his choice of major.

"Wilderness medicine really interests me," he said. "We're learning skills that can apply in everyday life."

While the first responders are trained to handle emergencies in remote settings, many end up using their skills at car accidents or in other more common rescue situations.

"We're teaching them to apply EMS skills when caring for a patient," Sablosky said. "The core of our course is teaching medicine."

Sablosky and Georgia Villaflor served as instructors for the course, providing students with firsthand knowledge of extreme rescue situations. Sablosky has worked in ski patrol in Colorado. Villaflor, who lives in Kansas, has experience in mountain rescue. Both are certified wilderness emergency medical technicians.

The training drew participants from Hawaii, Virginia, New York, Ohio, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Illinois, as well as throughout Indiana. Undergraduate and graduate students from Indiana State also took part.

Many of the students work in outdoor fields or needed the certification to lead wilderness trips. Others enjoy various forms of outdoor recreation, including dog sledding, skiing and mountain biking.

Amanda Benitez traveled the farthest to attend. A resident of Oahu, Hawaii, she works in wilderness youth therapy. Now that she's certified as a wilderness first responder, Benitez can lead groups of troubled teens on expeditions.

"This is definitely a class worth taking," she said. "They're teaching us proactive skills that are applicable in a lot of different situations."

Benitez was drawn to the program at the Field Campus, located about 18 miles east of Terre Haute, because of its low cost and on-site camping facilities. The Field Campus is designed for outdoor teaching, learning and research. It can also be reserved for public use.

Jason Wenning, a biology major and recreation management and youth leadership minor at Indiana State, hopes to go on to medical school and said the first responder course has helped him work toward that goal.

"I've been learning first response, not only in the wilderness but in any situation," said Wenning, a junior from Greensburg.

Resourcefulness was a key element of a training exercise that challenged participants to help a patient who needed to be transported out of a backcountry area.

"Grab everything you can put your hands on that could be used to pad people," Villaflor instructed the group.

The students scattered, returning with items raging from the practical to the creative. The padding material included sleeping bags, pieces of foam sleeping pads, life jackets and a black and white checkered seat cushion from the Indianapolis 500.

"We use what we can find in the backcountry," Schaumleffel said, as he gathered up an armload of life jackets and canoe paddles.

The participants used the materials to stabilize a woman who had been placed in a Stokes Litter•a basket-like stretcher often used to transport patients in remote settings. Villaflor reminded students that while the course focused on the fundamentals, they would need to be prepared to improvise when faced with responding to a true emergency.

"In real-life, you will never get to do as well as you will here in class," she said.

Participants worked to secure ropes around the litter to ensure the patient's stability even through rocky passageways or down snow-covered ski slopes, learning how to move quickly while adapting to less than ideal conditions.

"They leave this class feeling like they're able to do more with less," Sablosky said.

More information about Wilderness Medical Associates is available online at www.wildmed.com.

More information about the ISU Field Campus is available online at http://www1.indstate.edu/rcsm/fieldcampus.html.


Contact: Nathan A. Schaumleffel, assistant professor, Department of Recreation and Sport Management, Indiana State University, 812-237-2189 or nschaumleff@indstate.edu

Writer: Emily Taylor, assistant director of media relations, Indiana State University, 812-237-3790 or etaylor16@indstate.edu

Photo and cutline: Participants in the Wilderness First Responder course concentrate on stabilizing a patient and taking vital signs during a training exercise at the Indiana State University Field Campus. (ISU/Kara Berchem)


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Story Highlights

A group of outdoor enthusiasts spent at week at the ISU Field Campus learning how to save lives, even in areas where calling 911 is not an option.

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