Emergency Preparedness in the Outdoors
In 2020, the Covid-19 pandemic changed the world as we know it. It shut down our ability to travel, changed the way we work, and altered our lifestyles in so many ways. Life as we had become accustomed to ground to a halt for a time. By March of that year, it shut down the ski resorts in most parts of the Northern Hemisphere including in Colorado, Utah, and California. This unprecedented move sent ripple effects throughout not just the ski industry, but to the outdoor industry as a whole. Many reluctantly put their skis and boards away and hunkered down.
As spring approached, protocols were taking shape for how we could get outside again and enjoy nature while also adhering to new safety guidelines. By the late spring of 2020 and into summer, with new safety guidelines established, the rafting season and summer recreation was underway. With a comprehensive plan on how to address these new risk factors, and a resolute commitment to safety, Defiance Rafting in Glenwood Springs happily saw a large increase in people booking rafting trips. Many who had been in isolation or had been quarantined for months were anxious to be outdoors again and have the opportunity to spend time with their loved ones, enjoying the beauty of nature.
However, with such a large increase in the number of people looking to get outdoors again, there was also an increase in the number of outdoor related accidents, injuries, and/or rescues in the last year or so. Since the pandemic began, there have been tens of thousands more people venturing out into the wilderness, and some Colorado search and rescue districts have seen over a 300% increase in call volume between 2019 and 2020. Part of the increase in calls can be attributed to people going out either unprepared or because they are lacking the skillsets to be able to address an emergency while in the wilderness. But we can train ourselves to be better prepared for when the unexpected happens.
In the rafting industry in Colorado, the minimum qualification for commercial river guides is to have accumulated a set amount of training time and river miles, as well as having a valid CPR certification and basic first aid. This is a sufficient amount of training when advanced life support (ALS) can be quickly accessed – as is typically the case with the sections that Defiance and other outfitters run commercially on the local sections of the Colorado and Roaring Fork Rivers. However, Defiance is committed to exceeding both guest expectations as well as the minimum qualifications, and that is why they offer a multitude of training opportunities that go beyond what the state mandates.
For the last 5 years, Defiance has implemented a comprehensive guide training program as well as swift water rescue training. This has contributed to the impressive safety record that Defiance holds as one of their most prized accolades. Additionally, in the last three years, Defiance has hosted a Wilderness First Responders (WFR) certification course, partnering with an organization called SOLO, a leader and innovator in wilderness medicine education for over 40 years.
The Wilderness First Responder (WFR) certification is an 80-hour intensive course held over 8-10 days. The SOLO course takes an in depth look at response and assessment, musculoskeletal injuries, environmental emergencies and survival skills, and soft tissue injuries and medical emergencies. It is often required for ski patrollers, mountain guides, backcountry trip leaders, and river guides traveling to remote areas on multi-day trips. But it is not just for professional guides, it is for anyone who ventures into wilderness areas where access to medical care is an hour or more away.
As in previous years, the SOLO WFR course hosted by Defiance in 2021 took a balanced approach by combining class time with mock scenarios that thoroughly tested students’ problem-solving skills. The instructor for SOLO built upon and tested their skills and knowledge base by creating scenarios that included: mock mass casualties with a variety of different injuries located in difficult terrains, managing cold water emergencies – literally in cold water – and even a scenario on how to build an emergency shelter and start a fire in a variety of situations. Students were taught the best ways to control bleeding, how to improvise spinal immobilization devices to evacuate injured people, how to build femur traction splints, the best way to prepare pine needle tea for some added calories, and so much more.
With more people getting out to find adventure in the outdoors, the ability to address outdoor related emergencies or situations that require care is a critical component to having the kind of experience that is desired. Wilderness First Responder training not only provides one of the most vital tools needed for those who may want to venture further out there, but it also cultivates leaders who will have the required skills necessary to lead trips, and to aid other adventurers (including themselves) who may be in need of help off the beaten path. It is always the hope that the skills learned in trainings such as swift water rescue and WFR will never need to be used. Still, it is better to have the training and not need it, than to need it and not have it when it comes to adventure.