Wednesday, November 12, 2014

SOLO Wilderness First Responder Course Review

Back in September, The Man and I both decided we wanted to take the 80-hour Wilderness First Responder (WFR) course held through Stonehearth Open Learning Opportunities (SOLO) and hosted by the Adventure Leadership Institute (ALI) at Oregon State University (OSU). We did some research about the class beforehand, and we got our required supply list just two days before class started, so there was a bit of panicked shopping. Thankfully we had an extra $100 just laying there (not) to buy these supplies after paying $600 each for the class.

The Man and I decided to take the class to increase our self-reliance skills, learn a bit more about first aid and incident management, and to have some fun. We were interested in the class because we live in an earthquake-prone area, and the odds of a natural disaster occurring at some point aren't exactly slim. We know that when "the big one" happens, paramedics aren't going to be quick, and getting to a functional hospital might take hours or even days. The director of the ALI told us before the class that the WFR would be a perfect choice for us to learn the skills we want without having to become EMTs ourselves. Sweet!

Except not so sweet. Of the six adults in our class, three of us were interested in urban self-reliance skills, not just backcountry wilderness skills. The entire course was centered around backcountry injuries like rock climbing and hiking--activities I'm very unlikely to participate in outside of quick day hikes. While the information we learned was good, I felt like three of us didn't get what we were promised. It was like being told "come to math class and learn all about addition," and then showing up only to be taught subtraction: same numbers, different applications. A good teacher is able to adapt the lesson to the students, and I don't feel like that was even considered.

Out of the eight-day course, The Man and I felt overwhelmed and exhausted for most of them. The information was presented fast-and-furious, and we weren't given a whole lot of time to study or practice what we'd learned before jumping right into scenarios where we had to immediately put to use the information we'd been learning that day. The scenarios were simulated injuries and treatments, and the six students took turns being the patients and care providers. Occasionally, all six of us would respond to a scenario and have to work as a group, but these incidents proved to be incredibly stressful, unrealistic, and overly challenging. The Man and I felt defeated and frustrated most nights after group events, but we both felt very positive about the individual or two-man-team scenarios by the second or third day.

On the last night of classes before the final day with the written and oral practical tests, the six of us went into the nearby college forest to do a night scenario mock rescue in which the six students acted as first responders to a hiking incident (though we were still well within cell phone range in real life). We had three primary patients: one with hypothermia that just needed to be warmed up, one walking wounded individual who was incredibly difficult and disruptive to the scene, and one open leg fracture who also had head trauma. The team split up into three two-man groups, and we all ended up coming together to carry out the broken leg guy in a litter. We were in the forest for five hours. While it was, in a way, fun, it was also a huge test of our skills, endurance, and ability to cooperate.

The tests on the last day were pretty easy. The oral practical was very easy, and the written test was only difficult because the wording was purposely misleading. Everyone in the class passed with above-average scores.

The information gained has been incredible, and I do feel more confident dealing with injuries. The Man and I both strongly recommend that anyone interested in wilderness medicine take the class.


Everyday Obscurity said...

Way to go, guys! That class sounds awesome. You're camping with us from now on, right? ;)

Jaggy said...

We'd love to go camping with you when it, you know, dries out a bit.