Scouts and Scouters strive to Be Prepared — just as Scouting founder Robert Baden-Powell once said — for “any old thing.” You don’t know when your preparation might be called into action. Sometimes it’s soon after you’ve made those preparations.
Bradley Schuyler, an assistant Scoutmaster with Troop 514 in Clovis, Calif., took the Wilderness First Aid training last May. The training enhances your basic first-aid knowledge.
“The course teaches a method to responding to a medical problem when there isn’t a medical professional available,” says Timothy Brox, the BSA’s chair of the Safe Scouting Medical Subcommittee. “It’s a bridge between basic first aid and an EMT-level response.”
It’s a 16-hour course during which trainees deal with certain scenarios. One of those scenarios focuses on what to do if someone experiences altitude sickness.
WFA training in action
Shortly after taking the WFA course, Schuyler and Troop 514 went into the central Sierra Nevada wilderness to begin training for an upcoming Philmont Scout Ranch trek. Starting at 8,000 feet in elevation, the high-altitude hike would help condition the Scouts for a weeklong adventure in the New Mexico mountains.
However, two hours into the hike, Schuyler’s son Robert began complaining that he wasn’t feeling well. He felt nauseated and had a headache. The group immediately stopped and took a break to rest and hydrate.
“Without the training, I would’ve said he was tired,” Schuyler says. “He wanted to keep going, but I could look at him and see he wasn’t OK.”
Even after 20 minutes, his son still felt nauseated and fatigued. Schuyler recognized the symptoms of altitude sickness and made the decision for the group to head back down.
“You’re heading further into the wilderness; you’re further back from help,” he says. “All of these things dictate the decision. There will be another day to hike.”
There were other days to hike before the Philmont trek, which went well for all the Scouts.
Why take the course
Troop 514’s practice hike serves as an example of how important it is to Be Prepared.
“A little bit of knowledge can be so critical to help an outdoor activity go safely,” Brox says.
Wilderness First Aid training, suitable for those 14 years old and up, prepares trainees to identify and address medical issues that might arise beyond basic first aid and where emergency medical personnel may be delayed in responding, like during a natural disaster, traffic accident or if your group was deep into the wilderness.
A BSA-led task force developed a curriculum specifically for Scouts and Scouters. All four of the BSA high-adventure bases require at least one person per trek to be WFA-trained through one of the BSA’s approved providers. Those providers are:
- American Red Cross.
- Emergency Care and Safety Institute.
- Providers listed by the American Camp Association under its standard.
Check with your local council about taking this training, which stays current for two years. The Emergency Care and Safety Institute offers a blended BSA WFA course with half online and the other half as an in-person scenario-based skills check.
The WFA training addresses both simple scenarios and complex ones, like altitude sickness.
“A lot of people do CPR training,” Schuyler says. “This is more advanced first aid. Knowing what to do to save a life is invaluable.”