Peter Passi column: Wilderness first aid course prepares Northland adventurers for adversity – Reuters


CLOQUET — If you’re heading into the wilderness, where medical care can be a long way off, it’s worth thinking about how you might handle an unexpected illness, injury or medical mishap. In fact, camp staff, guides, backcountry firefighters, and people whose jobs regularly take them to remote areas are often required to complete a wilderness first aid course along with CPR certification. every two years.

Although my job requires no medical qualifications, our family spends about a week each summer paddling and portaging in the wilderness of Boundary Waters Canoe Area. Knock on wood: we’ve never experienced a real medical emergency in the wild – a few scrapes and falls, cuts and twisted ankles, sure, but nothing we couldn’t handle.

Yet, we know that can change in an instant with a clumsy misstep, a chop, an overturned pot or a water emergency.

So when my wife suggested I take a weekend emergency wilderness first aid course a few weeks ago at the Cloquet Forestry Center, I said, Enroll me.

A realistic looking simulated wound used as a teaching aid during the wilderness first aid course.

Steve Kuchera/Duluth News Tribune

Our 26 classmates in the 16 hour course came from many walks of life.

Angle Inlet resident Livi Goulet, 19, signed up for the first aid course as training required for a summer job at Laketrails Base Camp on Lake of the Woods.

She’s done her share of traveling, but Goulet said this will be her first year as a bandleader.

“I’m really looking forward to it, and learning a lot,” she said.

Laura Reuling, works as a researcher for the University of Minnesota Forestry Program and said wilderness first aid skills are a must, given the remote conditions in which she and her colleagues regularly work.

“There’s so much out there, and even if you’re not out for days, it can be tough to get out of a situation,” she said.

Katie Luthy of Longleaf Wilderness Medicine demonstrates how to close and dress a mock cut with help from student Susie Meisner.

Peter Passi / Duluth News Tribune

Susie Meisner, 66, from Cloquet and formerly from Ely, has been on a lot of canoe trips and trained in wilderness first aid several years ago, but said she wanted to cool off and learn about all medical protocols that have changed, especially as she plans to take her 14-year-old grandson to boundary waters in the near future.

Meisner said she hopes future generations will retain respect and reverence for the natural world and all it has to offer. It’s something she hopes to convey with a sense of self-assurance in nature.

“I really want kids to get out and experience the wilderness,” she said.

Sponges, rolled gauze and scissors lie on a table during a wilderness first aid course.

Steve Kuchera/Duluth News Tribune

Auste Eigirdas, a freshman at the University of Minnesota, also enrolled in Cloquet’s wilderness first aid course, leaving the Twin Cities campus to attend. She said the education will help her have peace of mind.

Although she has yet to experience a medical emergency on the pitch. Eigirdas said there have been close calls with disturbed wasp nests. And she also works in stretches of forest in the Mississippi Basin that have become more treacherous in recent years as the emerald ash borer infestation has killed large numbers of trees.

Katie Luthy of Longleaf Wilderness Medicine shows how to splint and immobilize an ankle in the field, using wilderness first aid student and forestry researcher Alan Toczydlowski. He explained that searchers must be certified to perform basic CPR and to provide first aid, as their work often takes them to remote areas, where outside help is not immediately available.

Peter Passi / Duluth News Tribune

“It’s just a graveyard of ash trees in places. We can’t even work there sometimes when it’s windy,” she said. “It is too easy for trees and branches to fall even when there is no wind. We call them widowmakers.

The first aid course covered a lot of ground including cuts and all injuries; brain and spine injuries; respiratory distress; hypothermia; overheating troubles; flash; allergies and anaphylaxis; shock; broken bones and joint injuries; and recovery from immersion among other medical issues you may unexpectedly face.

Katie Luthy, program manager for Longleaf Wilderness Medicine, holds a donut-shaped moleskin cushion while talking about treating blisters.

Steve Kuchera/Duluth News Tribune

Katie Luthy, program manager for Longleaf Wilderness Medicine, stressed the importance of assessing a situation, gathering relevant information and above all protecting yourself.

“We don’t want to create more patients,” she said.

Luthy’s fellow instructor was Shawn Olesewski, outdoor pursuit coordinator for the College of St. Scholastica and a former member of the St. Louis County Search and Rescue Team.

“Having the ability to react is one thing, and having the knowledge to know when you’re going over your head is another,” he said. “I think it’s also really important that people know what they don’t know.”

Wilderness First Aid Instructor Shawn Olesewski chats with two students learning to use wound closure tape.

Steve Kuchera/Duluth News Tribune

Olesewski said the training encourages people to think about how things could go wrong and what a misstep could cost.

“It helps emphasize judgment and encourages risk mitigation,” he said. Maybe it makes you think twice about jumping off a cliff into unfamiliar water.

“The rescue team was called in regularly for things that were entirely avoidable, when people got into a position where they didn’t think things through or figure out how to help each other ahead of time,” Oleseski said.

He said a wilderness first aid course can help improve this decision-making process, leading to less risky behavior and better outcomes, even if things go wrong.

Sophie Ackerman, left to right, Auste Eigirdas and Alan Toczydlowski group a classmate during a wilderness first aid session on how to recognize and treat hypothermia on May 1, 2022.

Steve Kuchera/Duluth News Tribune

If you want to know more

The course I took was taught by Longleaf Wilderness Medicine, a team that will be offering similar teaching in Northland in the coming weeks.

Longleaf offers nearly 100 training sessions a year in 24 states across the country, and program manager Katie Luthy said spring is the busiest time of year as people prepare for another season. outdoor activities.

Today, Longleaf is headquartered in Sandpoint, Idaho, but was born on Alabama’s Gulf Coast, where hurricanes and other weather emergencies have at times cut off communities and left them at themselves when medical issues arose.

“The city has become the desert,” Luthy said. “We had to figure out: how to solve problems with the resources we have.”

She said that task often involved figuring out how to improvise. The organization aptly takes its name from the longleaf pine, a southern conifer known for its resistance to hurricanes.

“We needed community resilience. People had to be able to help each other, because 911 was not set up to be able to respond to everyone. We needed each other,” Luthy said.

Longleaf developed a training program that was quickly recognized as excellent preparation for a wide range of circumstances, including remote wilderness intervention.

Future classes in the region:

  • Wilderness First Aid, June 11-12, Duluth
  • Wilderness First Responder, June 4-8, Duluth
  • Wilderness First Responder Recertification June 11-12, Duluth

For more information, visit [email protected] or call 208-274-3596


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