Courses prep wilderness first-responders

Posted: Friday, April 08, 2005

JUNEAU — Several agencies in town are training people to treat trauma and other medical situations in the middle of nowhere.

Through the University of Alaska Southeast and Southeast Alaska Guidance Association, students of the wilderness first-responder classes learn everything from basic anatomy to administration of pain medicine. Once they finish the course, they will receive a certificate by Wilderness Medical Associates.

''This is a very inclusive medical course,'' said David Troup, director of SAGA's Eagle Valley Center. SAGA, a nonprofit group that conducts youth-serving projects throughout the state, recently offered a nine-day wilderness first responder course to the public for the first time.

''We saw this need in the community,'' Troup said. ''We have a lot of kayak rangers, people who are going to lead tourist groups and some people who are outdoor educators.''

In the first open-enrollment class, three of the 10 students work for the U.S. Forest Service while some work as tour guides. Kristin Stelck, a wilderness ranger of the U.S. Forest Service, said the wilderness first responder course is more in-depth than her annual first-aid training.

Stelck's coworker, Jon Horn, said the training is important for wildlife rangers and biologists because their job requires them to venture to remote areas.

''You can't just call 911 and expect the ambulance to be there in five minutes,'' Horn said.

The instructor, Lucy Tate, has been in the emergency medical service since 1977. She worked as an emergency medical technician in California for seven years and as a California Highway Patrol officer for another seven years. She is now captain of volunteer emergency medical services in Haines.

In Tate's class, students attend lectures in the morning and practice what they have learned in an outdoor setting in the afternoon.

The Eagle Valley Center provides a perfect setting for the scenarios in the afternoon.

In a recent Thursday class, Tate led her students into the woods and instructed them in how to extricate a person from an uneven surface.

Jeremiah Demoter pretended to be unconscious, lying near the roots of a tree. Jenn Spencer, a trip leader for Alaska Crossings in Wrangell, directed her fellow classmates to stabilize Demoter's head and arms and move him in small increments onto a backboard.

''Is there anyone not ready?'' she asked. ''On my count, one, two, three, move.''

Spencer said the role playing helps her apply the knowledge she has learned. ''It gets your mind doing it,'' she said.

People who have taken this kind of course found it useful.

Brock Tabor, a backcountry guide who received his certification six years ago, said the course not only equips him with basic first-aid knowledge but also trains him to think creatively.

''What can you do to get a person out of the backcountry? How can you stabilize a person to get help? What is at disposal you can use?'' said Tabor, who renewed his certification through Alaska Discovery Wildnerness Tours in June.

Tabor said one might have to use skis and ski poles to stabilize a person's dislocated joints in a ski accident. He always carries Paul Nocolazzo's ''The Art and Technique of Wilderness Medicine: A Field Manual'' when leading trips.

''I have dealt with hypothermia, heat exhaustion, a lot of sprains and strains, aches and pains,'' Tabor said. ''The only thing I probably haven't done is to deliver a baby.''

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