Wilderness First Aid Course


It had only been a couple of months since I completed a first aid certificate at work. Now faced with a collapsed person who I had to diagnose and treat my mind was blank. Slowly I started to remember the steps of basic casualty management. Assess the scene, use a problem solving approach, and reassure the injured person… Finally I had the wound treated, the bandage in place and the ‘injured’ person comfortable. This role-play was my introduction to the remote area first aid course run by Bruce McNaughton.

In hindsight I should have attended, with the others, the one day Senior First Aid certificate course Bruce conducted the previous weekend. That first role-play had brought home to me just how important it was with first aid to refresh what I had previously learnt.

For two days in late June eleven club members enjoyed Bruce’s mixture of instruction, role-plays, scenarios and first aid games. Gordon Scout Hall provided an excellent ‘wilderness’ venue for the course. A picturesque bushland setting offered a taxing and appropriate practice area for the role-plays, the kitchen supplied the well earned coffee but most importantly the hall provided the right ‘climate’ for the most realistic first aid challenge of the weekend, how to deal with that potential killer, hypothermia.

Hypothermia was not the only potential danger to the kayaker discussed. Bruce covered a wide range of topics from broken bones, head injuries, shock, burns to allergic reactions, bites and wounds. It was not the wide range of potential things that could go wrong that had me starting to question the wisdom of kayaking but the ability of the group to provide graphic examples for each of the injuries. At one point I was beginning to wonder how the club has survived given the ‘bad luck’ of so many of its members.

Short bursts of theory were followed by the chance to practice a new skill through role-plays. Role-plays made more dramatic by goodies from a kit bag of simulated wounds. A car accident saw multiple people injured and in shock, broken bones protruding through the skin, open wounds with life-like blood, snake bites and my favourite: an eye dislocated from its socket. Another incident found us down in the bush behind the scout hall treating a person with a broken leg and open bleeding wounds on the hand. After treating the injuries they needed to be carefully moved back up the hill. Two spare paddles, a tow rope and a Thermarest mat provide all the ingredients you need for a suitable stretcher to do the job.

Sleeping mats, it should be noted, had become a core piece of first aid equipment in these exercises. They are effective as part of a stretcher, something insulated to lay your injured person on (very important on the floor of a scout hall) or a fabulous inflatable splint for immobilising a limb. It is however the humble triangular bandage that produces the best ‘walking wounded’ images. Useful not only as narrow or broad bandage but tied elegantly into one of three different types of sling, the St John, the collar & cuff or the full arm, they make a real first aid ‘fashion’ statement.

While the role-plays provided the opportunity to put theory into practice, Bruce had a couple of other fun ways to test our learning. Modelled on an old party game the group was split into two. One half of the group asked to sit up against the wall each with a sign above their head on which was an ailment you had to deduce though your own series of questions. The other half privy to the ailment had to answer the questions in a helpful manner. Am I breathing? Am I cold? Am I bleeding? The game proved harder than it sounds particularly given all the various symptoms we had been discussing. There was a chance I would die of old age before I managed to guess what was wrong with me.

At the end of the two days there remained two tests to complete, one a formal written paper for our certificate and the other a practical test set by the scout hall.

My answer to the Scout Hall Test was:

…the solution to preventing hypothermia is to select appropriate clothing, equipment and food. Appropriate clothing based upon observation of the group showed that you should dress in layers; Annie for example had about 13 layers – the outer layer a down sleeping bag rated to about -7°C. Heat loss through the extremities also needs to be prevented. Shaan’s woollen beanie stayed firmly pulled down on her head, Dee’s gloves and Lee’s bright red long socks (on day two) all did the trick. Those socks also would double as a useful piece of safety equipment – visible for a very considerable distance. They remain debateable as a fashion accessory. Food is very important – Bruce’s miniature lamingtons worked well. As for the equipment – never go anywhere without a triangular bandage and a Thermarest mat.

Thanks to the group of Annie, Dee, Shaan, Adrian, Claus, Eric, John, Lee, Owen and Roger who all helped make the course fun and an enjoyable social occasion. Bruce did a great job teaching. Not an easy task when your students showed signs normally associated with a body temperature of 34°C.

As for the important question about whether or not the course was worthwhile, I might leave it to Claus. This is the email he sent the day after the course:

“This morning while sitting on the train from Chatswood to Wynyard with my iPad plugged into my ears I still managed to hear a thump, then a call for anyone with first aid. Popped the ear phones out and quickly went to where all the noise was. There was a young man on the carriage floor. What would be the chance of this happening so soon after the course?

Nerves hit the roof but took one (sorry Bruce, not two) big breath and focused on what we learnt. Possibly didn’t get it 100% in the correct order but got him relaxed and comforted (while checking all the bits and pieces) till the train pulled up to next station and was able to transfer him to the rail safety officers.”