Wilderness EMT Training

By Joe Keyser

So my EMT class was great! I learned a ton of new skills. But as we SAR folks know, you don’t always have an ambulance next to you on a search. How do you manage care when the ambulance isn’t right next to you? To begin learning the answers, I enrolled in a wilderness EMT course taught by the Wilderness Medical Institute (WMI). The course focuses on providing emergency medical care in situations where help is hours—or even days—away.

The class was 48 hours of instruction held over 5 days in a beautiful spot on the Marin Headlands. It was called Wilderness Upgrade For Medical Professionals, offering education credits for EMTs, paramedics and medical practitioners. My fellow students included several doctors, several registered nurses, two physician assistants, a nurse practitioner, an Army Medic recently returned from Afghanistan, and several working paramedics and EMTs. Interestingly, the doctors were not the best students. That designation fell to the working EMTs, probably because they do emergency patient assessments every day.

We spent a good mix of time in the classroom and outside, working through medical scenarios. Some of the scenarios students were presented with included a variety of broken bones and wounds, burns (apparently people spill their cooking water on themselves all the time), hypothermia, altitude sickness, abdominal illness, cardiac issues, an unresponsive patient, and an interesting mental health case. I especially liked the course’s focus on evacuation criteria. All the topics came down to a 3 part decision: can this be handled in the field, is this a slow evac, or do we push the big red switch and get the patient out quickly?

In addition to the simple scenarios, we did two mass casualty incident (MCI) scenarios. The first involved actually throwing 5 students in the Pacific Ocean to simulate a boat wreck. The rest of us had to organize and co-ordinate the rescue and treatment of 5 people who were all hypothermic and had various types of injuries. Working with scene safety as a real consideration was pretty exciting. We also did a night MCI involving patients we were led to believe were not part of the simulation.

Overall the class was an excellent experience. The venue was beautiful. The WMI instructors were highly experienced; both had spent extensive amounts of time working in the field all over the world. I learned new skills, met some amazing people, and got in a tremendous amount of practice with wilderness medicine.