What is Wilderness First Aid?

Wilderness First Aid is assistance provided in a wilderness or remote environment. A wilderness environment may be defined as any area located outside the normal range of ambulance services and Emergency Medical Services (EMS). This may include a wilderness canoe route, local hiking trail or a remote forestry or mining operation.

The Importance of Wilderness Safety Training

  • Most first aid training in North America is focused on the short-term management of common illnesses and injuries where emergency services and medical facilities are only a phone call away. Those who work and travel in remote regions, however, do not have immediate access to medical facilities and must possess more advanced training to respond to the specific challenges of the wilderness environment.
  • A rescuer’s involvement may last hours or even days depending upon the nature of the illness or injury and the availability of transport to the nearest medical facility. This delay may require the rescuer to apply advanced first aid techniques such as administering medications, reducing dislocations and cleaning wounds.
  • Rescuers must deal with extreme and variable weather conditions, which may affect the safety of patients and rescuers.
  • First aid equipment and supplies are generally limited and must often be improvised from the materials at hand.
  • Some injuries and illnesses are more common in wilderness areas. Examples of these include deep frostbite, severe hypothermia and contact with poisonous plants.
  • Wilderness first aid almost always involves the long-term care of patients and rescuers prior to and during evacuation. This includes providing the necessities of food and water, stabilizing body temperature and offering psychological support for patients and other group members.

Preparation for Wilderness Excursions

Wilderness caregivers must recognize their own limitations in managing serious illnesses and injuries in the backcountry. Preparing for work or travel in remote settings requires:

  • A detailed analysis of the types of injuries likely to be encountered.
  • Estimating the length of time that may be involved before EMS can be activated and an evacuation can take place.
  • Assembling first aid kits and supply lists that adequately reflect the length of the trip, the number of people in the party, the level of first aid training of the participants and the type of environment that will be encountered.

In addition to knowledge and skills related to emergency care, the well-prepared rescuer must provide for the health and well-being of group members throughout the duration of the activity. It is much better to prevent problems than to have to deal with them once they have occurred.

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