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Wilderness First Aid Part II – Understanding the Courses Offered

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by on 06-28-2012 at 01:17 PM (481 Views)
This is part 2 of 3 in a series on wilderness first aid. In part 1 we discussed the importance of receiving training for backcountry first aid. We also highlighted the differences between traditional first aid courses and those offered by outdoor-minded organizations like Stonehearth Open Learning Opportunities (SOLO) and National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS). In this section we will discuss the different levels of training offered by the two organizations, and also compare the courses as taught by SOLO and NOLS. Part 3 will cover the essentials of a backcountry medical kit.

Clayton, a blogger here on the Social Hub, recently completed a 5 part series covering the essentials of backpacking. One of his big points of emphasis was encouraging backpackers to take steps to prevent emergencies from ever happening. If you have not read them yet, take a minute to read the Understanding Your Environments and Backcountry Kitchen Safety and Environmental Exposure articles for helpful hints on keeping you and your group out of harm’s way. As Ben Franklin once famously said “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

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(All courses offered by SOLO and NOLS incorporate in-class learning into their training.)

In 1975, SOLO began offering the course that is now known as the Wilderness First Aid class. This course, originally called “Mountain/Woods First Aid,” has become the standard for wilderness training throughout the country. Though SOLO is no longer the only organization offering this training, their curriculum is at the center of all other backcountry medicine training.

As someone who has taken courses through both SOLO and NOLS, I can tell you that the training is nearly identical. Both organizations combine in-class learning with field-based scenarios. There are slight differences in terminology and acronyms used in instruction, but the processes and procedures taught are interchangeable. SOLO is generally less expensive and operates mostly on the East coast while NOLS courses are consistently more expensive and are offered primarily in the west.

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(Scenarios with both SOLO and NOLS frequently involve wound makeup and fake blood.)

The following is a detailed breakdown of each course offered by SOLO and NOLS.

Wilderness First Aid (WFA)

WFA courses provide the most basic training of any course offered, and typically last two full days. No prior first aid training is required, and the course covers the basics of:

· Asthma
· Cold-Related Injuries
· Survival Skills
· Medical Emergencies
· Critical Care
· Orthopedics
· Patient Assessment System
· Spinal Cord Injury Management
· Sprains and Strains
· (For a full list of topics from SOLO, click here)

Price: $140-$235

Schedule: SOLO, NOLS

*The WEST Institute is offering a WFA course Aug. 17-18 in Centennial, WY. The cost is $140 and includes two nights of lodging. For more information, click here.

Wilderness First Responder (WFR)

WFR courses are more in depth than the WFA, with 80-hours of training being normal. These are the standard for guides and other professional outdoorsmen, though they are open to anyone. This course can often be taken for 3-4 hours of college credit, and can be used by EMTs to earn a Wilderness EMT certification. Topics covered include:

· Head Injuries
· Fracture Management and Traction Splinting
· Dislocations
· Cardiac, Respiratory and Neurological Emergencies
· Search and Rescue
· Urinary and Reproductive System Issues
· Cold Injuries
· (For a full list of topics from NOLS, click here).

Price: $550 - $1450

Schedule: SOLO, NOLS

Wilderness Emergency Medical Technician (W-EMT)

W-EMT training is the highest level of training provided by NOLS and SOLO. This course is designed for those who work as professionals in the medical field. The course typically lasts one full month (170+ hours). Topics covered include:

· Healthcare Provider CPR
· Avalanche Skills
· Emergency Childbirth
· Geriatric Medicine
· Mass Casualty Incidents
· Mock Rescues
· (For a full list of topics from SOLO, click here)

Price: $2495 (SOLO) - $3,490 (NOLS)

Schedule: SOLO, NOLS

*The Jackson Hole Outdoor Leadership Institute just announced they are offering a 25 day W-EMT course through NOLS Oct. 15-Nov. 12 near Jackson WY. Click here to visit their site.

I would encourage anyone who spends time in the outdoors to receive one of these levels of training. You never know when a life may depend on it.


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Jimmy Carter is a guest blogger and communications director with The WEST Institute, an outdoor seminary program based in Laramie, Wyo. He is an active member of the outdoor community, and passionate about climbing.
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Updated 06-29-2012 at 10:26 AM by kimig

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