With so many opportunities to explore the outdoors in Bend come just as many opportunities to get hurt. From a simple sprain to a traumatic injury, getting hurt in the wilderness can elevate the intensity of any medical emergency. That's where wilderness first aid is key.
Specially-trained nurses, paramedics and therapists are prepared to deliver medical care in any environment, and Central Oregon offers numerous classes that teach essential wilderness medical skills to anyone willing to learn.
Wilderness first aid is specialized medical training focused on treating patients in remote, challenging environments. It's essential in a region such as Central Oregon where popular tourist spots consist of demanding terrain that, while ideal for extreme sports or physical recreation, are miles from the nearest hospital.
Medical transportation is a major aspect of wilderness first aid. AirLink is a local company that provides this service to much of the region.
"We get deployed when the patient is critically ill and it's a matter of timing that requires a level of expertise," said Kristin Lingman, a manager at AirLink. "By the time somebody is in our helicopter, it's a critical situation. It's our job to maintain life and get them to the hospital for the level of care that is best suited for them."
AirLink typically works with search and rescue teams and hospitals to provide emergency aid to patients in the wilderness.
"Usually by the time we get to a patient, search and rescue has found and packaged them for us. If needed, they also use our helicopter," Lingman said. "Bend is a remote area, so people are reliant on that mode of transportation to get them to where they can get the best care."
Due to the profession's extreme nature, wilderness first responders must receive specialized training and certifications. AirLink's team of nurses, paramedics and respiratory therapists are all nationally and state-certified flight responders, as well as having multiple advanced certifications ranging from pediatric support to survival training to surgical procedures. The job also requires plenty of experience.
"All of our crew are critical care providers, which means that they have five years of ICU or emergency department experience in Level One trauma centers or work in high call volume EMS systems," she said. "They've dealt with a variety of situations like strokes, burns, breaks and more."
Additionally, the crew undergoes daily training that reinforces a "culture of safety," Lingman said.
"You have to constantly train because patient care is a dynamic and ever improving field."
While much of the training AirLink and other companies require is specialized, basic wilderness first aid training is offered in intensive classes throughout Central Oregon, often open to anyone.
Adam Kaplan is the medical director at Evoke Wilderness Therapy and a physician's assistant specializing in emergency, wilderness and remote medicine. Kaplan recently started teaching wilderness medicine classes at universities and colleges around the state.
"Basically, the difference between a wilderness first responder and something like an EMT is the resources that you've got, the consideration for weather and terrain, and all the things that are outside that you don't have to deal with in an ambulance or hospital room," Kaplan said.
If this is something that interests you, don't expect to be dangling from a helicopter performing Coast Guard-style rescues. Kaplan said his class focuses instead on resource allocation and identifying injuries.
"A lot of it is anticipating what your problems are going to be and what could happen out there, then knowing what do in those situations," he said. "The more comfortable you can stay out there, the better position you're going to be in to make the right decision."
Kaplan is teaching another class this May at Baker Technical Institute. While the class is a requirement for people who work outdoors, such as AirLink or Forest Service employees, Kaplan said wilderness first aid classes are ideal for anyone who frequents the outdoors.
"A lot of people think of wilderness medicine as saving someone who just fell off a mountain or something extreme like that, but it's also being able to help someone who crashed their bike on Phil's Trail and twisted their ankle, or someone who's dehydrated," he said. "We're giving life-saving knowledge. It's just good to have that knowledge."
Bend Park & Recreation District
Wilderness First Aid—Classes start 3/18/17 & 6/3/17
Wilderness First Responder—Class starts 4/4/17
Central Oregon Community College
Ongoing courses and Basic Wilderness Life Support courses available
Baker Technical Institute
Wilderness First Responder Course (some coursestaught in Bend)