Feburary 4, 2022 | ACTIVE LIFE | By Alanna Jackson | Photo By Gracie Roe
My roommate, Ellen Moore ’23, returned from a lengthy day of learning the ins-and-outs of being a Wilderness First Responder (WFR) with a peculiar request. She waltzed in with a red first-aid bag and asked, “Can I take your vitals?”
Even though Moore is a naturally enthusiastic and vivacious person, her desire to continue practicing after a packed eight-hour day of WFR training astounded me.
During half block, which took place between Jan. 11 and Jan. 21, three classes of around 30 students took the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) WFR course. Moore, a computer science major and arts and crafts enthusiast, took part.
Known for clusters of students nestling around campus and running demonstrations with fake blood and improvised yelps, the training is a half block classic. WFR allows people to “learn how to take care of injured or sick people in the wilderness when you do not have access to EMTs or hospitals,” said Moore. It is tremendously important for folks who want to explore Colorado’s breathtaking backcountry.
According to NOLS, after the training, certified wilderness first responders are able to “conduct a thorough physical exam, obtain a patient history, assess vital signs, provide emergency care in the wilderness, and make crucial evacuation decisions.”
WFR training is also required for students who want to work as assistant backpacking leaders for Colorado College Outdoor Education’s Backcountry Skiing Leader Endorsement and Backpacking Leader Designation, outlined by the Ahlberg Leadership Institute.
The three pods of WFR students at Colorado College met every day at their respective designated classrooms — either in the Jerome P. McHugh commons above the Preserve, the Loomis first floor lounge, or Ed Robson Arena. Class usually lasted from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., with time for a lunch break. A few days lasted until 9:30 p.m. because of additional required training at night.
According to Moore, the beginning of the day consisted of lectures on a variety of common injuries and health issues that can occur in the wilderness and how to treat them. This ranged from preventing pesky blisters during long hikes to assessing whether a brain injury is the result of a ski accident. Other topics included spine injuries, altitude sickness, frostbite, shock, allergies, and fractures.
“The most interesting thing was learning about fractures, especially angulated,” said Gabby Casagrande ‘23, a molecular-biology student on the pre-med track who also took the WFR course. “In a non-wilderness setting, you’d always bring that to a doctor, but because this is WFR, we learned how to treat it to a small degree.”
Along with discussing types of ailments and accidents that most frequently occur in the backcountry, the groups also acted out scenarios.
“Half of the class were patients and the other half were rescuers,” said Moore. “While the patients were briefed on what happened to them, the rescuers were told what they saw. Then the rescuing would begin.”
The students evaluated the scene, approached the injured or sick person, announced that they are WFR certified, and asked for consent to assess the patient. According to Moore, scenarios were often intense; students had to look for clues about the patients’ ailment, such as fake blood and bruises or odd sounds and yelps when the rescuers touched certain areas of the body.
The NOLS instructors encouraged the students to use their acting skills for the full effect, to which Moore disclosed that “if you were here for half block and saw a bunch of people laying on the ground while maybe bleeding or yelling, it was probably a WFR class getting really into their roles.”
Beyond covering how to treat and prevent specific injuries and illnesses, the students also learned practical skills, such as how to take vitals, give CPR, and access situations in real outdoor sites.
Moore was particularly keen on practicing how to take vitals, which includes measuring the body temperature, pulse rate, respiration rate, and blood pressure of your patient.
CPR and first-aid training were also integral to the certification.
“I was already trained in CPR, but I think that was one of the most important things we learned and something I think everyone should learn,” Casagrande said. “You might never have to use it, but if you do and you get to the person quickly, you could be saving their life.”
On one of the last nights of the course, the three pods embarked on a nighttime adventure hike through Red Rock Canyon Open Space, which was Moore’s favorite part of the half block.
While Moore stated that the finer details of the hike are secret, she did disclose that the pods were split into smaller groups, and each group completed scenarios and saved people. To Moore, this night was special because she bonded with her class and grew more confident in her skills as a wilderness first responder.
At the end of the course, students took a written test and scenario evaluation; Moore and Casagrande both passed and are now officially certified as WFRs.
In the future, Moore is considering using her certification to secure an outdoor-oriented job. She is thankful that she will be able to go into the wilderness with her friends to ski, hike, or climb armed with the knowledge that she can take care of someone if something goes amiss.
The half block is offered every year in January, and Moore highly recommends the course to anyone interested in learning more about how to care for people when on outdoor excursions. Fake blood, vitals, and nighttime hikes… what more could you ask for?