March 09, 2016

What Does and Does Not Happen on NOLS Planet

WMI instructor Amy Shambarger demonstrates creating a quick compression splint.

Last weekend was devoted to the two-day wilderness first aid class, taught by instructors from the Wilderness Medicine Institute, (WMI)  part of the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) in Lander, Wyoming.

It is an excellent course — the instructors are strong — and to quote the website, it is for "the needs of trip leaders, camp staff, outdoor enthusiasts and individuals working in remote locations."

I have taken it twice now, with two different sets of instructors, to keep on the two-year recertification for the fire department, thinking mainly in terms of accidents during wildland firefighting — I am not an EMT and don't want to be.

But there are some curious omissions and asumptions. I suspect that they derive from the NOLS model of a trip with designated leaders that goes into a designated park or wilderness area in North America.

It is assumed that Search & Rescue and/or a medical-evacuation helicoper will come. Of course, you can now be choppered off Mount Everest, for a fee.

One odd omission was our friend the rattlesnake. (I could have guest-lectured.) I do see that the advanced version of the course (five days instead of two) includes "bites, stings, and poisonings."

Likewise, does the five-day course include gunshot wounds? I know, I should have asked. But I was busy sorting gear. ;)  I am not thinking combat-medic stuff here so much as the unfortunate accidental discharge.

I suspect, however, that guns do not exist on NOLS Planet, but "individuals . . . in remote locations" maybe ought to know. Here again, some people are teaching "shooter self-care" classes, but not in my area, unfortunately. There's an opportunity for someone.

(If you think there was a golden age of safe gun-handling, read some of the accounts of mid-19th century wagon trains, for example.)


Peculiar said...

Good observations, Chas. I've actually appreciated that many of my NOLS medical instructors have had a nuanced approach to evacs, i.e. distinguishing between fast evac and slow evac situations, and acknowledging that victims may have to walk or be carried. For us rafters, for instance, fast evac means float to a viable landing site and call for a chopper (note: may not actually be a very fast process), whereas the much preferable slow evac means float to the nearest road access, airstrip or jetboat landing and send them out less dramatically and dangerously.

Another trend I see in these courses is that they're increasingly geared towards contexts like rafting trips and ski patrols, where lots of specialized equipment can be kept handy. It makes for some pretty unrealistic gear assumptions for us foot travelers. I suppose those contexts are the reason a lot of people are taking the courses, but I do appreciate the degree to which NOLS keeps a foot in the backpacking world and its realities.

Chas S. Clifton said...

They do indeed make the distinction between fast and slow evac. With the instructors I have had, I did not feel that their gear assumptions were unrealistic; however, it does seem that my day packs are heavier after each class.