By Mhairi-Bronte Duncan

When planning for your backcountry adventures, there are three pieces of kit every adrenaline seeking individual should always have: a location beacon, a fully stocked first aid kit and the knowledge from attending a first aid course. All too often we can apply the ‘she’ll be right’ attitude to exploring the outdoors, but in an emergency, that is of little help.

I thought I knew enough to keep myself safe in the outdoors. It wasn’t until I witnessed two mountaineering falls – one on alpine rock and another from an ice climb this year – that I realised I seriously needed to upskill. I was incredibly thankful to have had a doctor with me on both occasions who assessed on-site and for the SAR and snow patrol teams. However, these experiences exposed that my basic high school first aid qualifications were in desperate need of a refresher with outdoor specific scenarios in mind.

Peak Safety runs outdoor specific one and two-day first aid courses and on the 5th of November, 11 members of the Otago Section of the New Zealand Alpine Club (OSONZAC) met at Long Beach Community Hall to complete Day One. Our incredibly experienced instructor, Caitlin Hill, took us through an extensive 8.5 hour course where she explained DRS ABC. If you didn’t know what that stood for, go sign up for a first aid course!

  • D-Danger
  • R-Response
  • S-Send for Help
  • A-Airways
  • B-Breathing
  • C-Circulation

Then Caitlin took us through different injuries, explaining the difference between bandaging and treating a bleed versus a fracture, as well as how to use a mouldable splint. We discussed how you could identify the mechanics of injury and the steps required to complete a head-to-toe assessment. I found this exceptionally helpful as I had watched the doctors complete these on site after mountaineering accidents. I finally understood the signs for which they were looking.

Then we worked through SAMPLE. Again, if you do not know what this is . . . please go and sign up for a first aid course. 

  • S-Sign & Symptom
  • A-Allergies
  • M-Medications
  • P-Previous Medical History
  • L-Last Meal/Drink
  • E-Events Prior

SAMPLE is extremely helpful both for yourself and for when you contact emergency services. Both acronyms help you to remember what to do in an emergency situation and act as prompts for questions to ask if the person is conscious. 

Building our first aid tool kit, we dug deeper into fractures – how they can occur and how we can treat/stabilise them with splints until emergency help arrives. Fractures are very common in the outdoors, often occurring due to a fall or high speed crash in ski touring. We learned CSM to remind us to check the splint was not causing damage. 

  • C-Circulation 
  • S-Sensation
  • M-Movement

Then we identified other outdoor specific injuries, including crushes, punctures, abrasions, blood loss, shock and collapsed lung/s. The information we gathered was regularly put to the test throughout the day using scenarios, in which each participant acted as the injured, assessor and helper. These scenarios became increasingly more complex and higher risk.

I found the scenarios really helpful for solidifying our new knowledge. Often you think you know something because you have just discussed or read about it, but putting it into practice really shows if you have actually taken it in. Peak Safety even supplied us with some very realistic looking open fracture prosthetics. 

Next our group was split up to learn about common medical conditions you can come across in the outdoors:  asthma, diabetes, epilepsy and heart attacks, to name a few. The group was incredibly creative drawing cartoons, acting out scenarios and telling of real-life experiences to inform the group of the signs and treatments for the various conditions. 

And of course, it wouldn’t be a first aid course if it did not include a section on CPR. We applied defibrillators and compressions to high-tech CPR dolls, which linked to an app monitoring the effectiveness of your compressions. Lastly, we discussed the necessity of a first aid kit and how to prepare for a helicopter rescue.

You never know when you will need first aid; however, it is something you should not neglect. Actively upskill yourself because when you need it, you really need it. Help in the outdoors, as many of us know, is often hours away at best. So the more you know to keep yourself and others safe, the better the chances are of survival.  

Photo credits:  Mhairi Bronte Duncan

The Otago Section of the New Zealand Alpine Club (OSONZAC) was awarded a FMC Training Grant: a cash grant to support the club to access this professional training. To learn more about the Training Grant, or to apply, please visit the FMC website.