Wilderness First Responder: The Recertification Tornado

Driving towards Bend is Mt. Thielson, AKA Lightning Rod of the Cascades

Well it’s lunch break time on day one of my  Wilderness First Responder Recertification course. As I digest the horrible Chevron pepper stick beef jerky, oatmeal raisin walnut Cliff bar I bought for far too cheap, and submerge all of that in a Diet Pepsi fountain soda, I try and gather my thoughts surrounding today. I decided to fork over the 310 dollars, payable to the Parks and Recreation Department, to get my re-certification. I view it more as an opportunity for hands-on practice with a high price tag than being certified as anything exemplary or much beyond “empathetic”. Really what you’re paying for with a class like this, where you’re brushing up on your “skills”, is facilitated practice.

In wildland fire, having your EMT or your Wilderness First Responder, doesn’t really have any substantial backing. We aren’t hired as EMT’s or woofers, we are hired as something else. Maybe having the certification helped land the job, but it isn’t your total job description. Having just landed a permanent job, I was reluctant to pursue this class, thinking, “hell, I’ve got a good job, why do I need this certification?” Then I started thinking – I don’t need the cert, I need the practice. If something happens to a guy on my squad, I want to feel like I’m fairly well prepared to assist in managing their injury and ensuring they get out safely.

Trying to make sense of three-year-old notes concerning the heart muscle with headlamp light near a campfire

But as with all self-imposed obligations we create for ourselves in order to push into uncomfortable territory, there are benefits. The three-and-a-half hour drive here was halted at a good riffle where I hooked and lost a winter steelhead. And then there was the 2017 Wildland Fire Leadership Readers Challenge Book “Team of Teams” blasting on audiobook as I navigated some backcountry Oregon rural highways, snow still over-top-of-my-jeep-deep alongside the road. To cap it off, last night I stayed at Tumalo State Park, paid the exorbitant 21 dollar fee for hot showers I didn’t use, a fire pit. Who knew the Deschutes River was only a three minute walk away? I strung up the rod, made some unsuccessful casts, and returned to a studying technique known as cramming, by firelight for the AM multiple choice exam that awaited me.

What I’ve noticed about EMT’s in these outdoor leadership schools is their overwhelmingly fast-paced speech. They all seem to jump around and speak a hundred miles an hour. I’ve felt similar reactions to a couple pyramid scheme presentations I admit to having been exposed to. And all of the fast, million mile an hour enthusiasm sort of leaves you at the end of the day going, ok, so if someone is messed up, out there – really messed up – what exactly am I supposed to do? I think the overarching theme underlaying this class reemphases the gray area under which medical circumstances within fire sometimes operate. In fire we have the nine line to assist relaying that information, but outside that, HOPEFULLY an EMT, and next comes a woofer, followed by empathetic firefighters/forestry technicians.

After lunch, we had somebody hit by a boulder in the Wind River Range of Wyoming, someone bucked off a horse an hour from town, a detailed discussion concerning the F.S.A. (or Focused Spine Assessment); we practiced lifting a patient with four to six individuals utilizing a technique knowing as a bridge lift, wherein two to three people line up on each side of the patient, with one person controlling the head. A very useful technique for placing a backboard underneath a patient who has a spinal injury. We covered flesh wounds, how when the wound is more than an inch wide it should be clotted open, to prepare for stitches, how to pressure irrigate a wound, how to apply triple antibiotic ointment on top rather than stuffed inside the wound, and when to avoid irrigating, as is the case in a puncture wound. There was the wrapping of an ankle including stirrups, 3 J’s, 3 8’s and filling in the gaps. Sadistically funny was my partners failure to remember to install pre-dressing prior to me wrapping all hell on their leg. Ouch!

By the end of nine hours in this environment, I was ready to go lay down in tall grass and be left alone, or go to Baja Fresh for a steak burrito before heading over to a buddy’s house, who has offered up the spare bedroom for the night. This guy goes by the name of Kansas, hailing roots to a state most of us will never have the desire to visit. One of the great things about being in this line of work is the plethora of good people who are willing to be your friend. The discomfort of toil and camaraderie of success generate a big group of people looking out for one another. I think he’s going to to endure a Clint Eastwood movie with me tonight, followed in the AM by some extremely mediocre biscuits and gravy. It’s another weird weekend, driving hundreds of miles, camping and sleeping in the unfamiliar. The type of trip that feels weary and tiring, and barely feels worth the effort. And then it’s all over real quick and you wouldn’t take a moment of it back.

Clint Eastwood In Heartbreak Ridge

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