The Other Certification Every Skydiver Needs: A WFR Card
It happens so fast.
You’re coming down from a great jump. You land, laughing, and whip around for the imminent high-five with a huge smile on your face. That smile drops right along with the friend framed in your view. Something happened in those last few feet of flight--you don’t know what, but that triumphant swoop turned into a spectacular case-in, and your friend’s screaming, and you’re running towards him at top speed, and his leg is at a crazy angle, and there’s blood. Lots of blood.
What the hell do you do now?
Wouldn’t you like to have a plan?
Even if you have no intention of becoming a medical pro--or even a uniformed first responder--you can get a short education that might make you the deciding beneficial factor in someone’s very worst day...maybe even yours. This curriculum is comprehensive and practical, integrating the essential principles and skills required to assess and manage medical problems you might come across, especially but not specifically in isolated and extreme environments. It doesn’t have a name that implies its usefulness for skydiving, sure--”Wilderness First Responder” sounds like a course built just for Search-and-Rescue burlies--but hear me out. You need this. Here’s why.
1. Help is not always immediately at hand.
Wilderness First Response certifications are meant to be used in earnest when the caregiver and receiver are essentially stranded in remote circumstances. While skydiving drop zones aren’t generally beyond the furthest reaches of civilization, they’re never in the center of it, either. Response times are not, as a rule, immediate.
Any medical education is of enormous benefit, of course, but--for a regular-strength skydiver--the ROI of a WFR is pretty damn dead-on. The WFR course is about intelligent, informed self-reliance in the absence of immediate help. In the wilderness setting that the course was designed around, the priority is to figure out whether you can semi-self rescue, to assess what additional resources you need, and to methodically stabilize yourself and/or others until the cavalry rolls up. In the dropzone setting, this training is just as useful.
2. Whether or not you’re trained, you will always be the first responder to your own injuries. Make those early minutes count.
If you end up injured during an emergency landing that’s outside the drop zone--and you don’t have a charged, functioning method of communication--then you’ll be waiting for help to find you. If you happen to be conscious in that interim (hooray lucky you), WFR training will give you a method for understanding your injury, stabilizing it and tracking its progress for later reporting. Without training, you’ll likely just lie there, terrified, in blinding pain--or make your injuries worse with incorrect responses.
3. You should be off the list of dead-weight liabilities and on the list of assets.
Skydiving is a sport that demands proactive personal responsibility in the context of a mutually supportive, risk-educated community. We all understand this. That said: While a WFR certification does not confer the knowledge of a full EMT, it makes the bearer a much stronger member of the greater support team.
A baseline education in first response moves you from a gasping member of the horrified crowd to a literate, assisting partner in incident management, though your role in the moment will, in all statistical likelihood, be quite procedurally basic.
4. You should dial up your powers of observation.
We’re not just talking about cardiac arrest and gaping wounds, here. WFR training will help you recognize subtle symptoms in a way that could help you change the outcome. Dehydration? Hypoxia? Heat illness? These are real-life dropzone problems, and your awareness could make a big difference in someone’s day.
5. You’ll get important certifications.
Successful completion of a WFR course will generally earn you a two-year Adult & Child CPR certification as well as the obvious Wilderness First Responder certification. This may or may not be an important piece of paper for you in a technical sense, but current CPR certification makes you a secret superhero in a world where lives are often saved by trained, responsive passers-by.
5. It’s a really good time. Seriously.
Wilderness First Response courses are generally administered in, predictably, wilderness settings. I did mine with the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) with the full majesty of the Yosemite Valley as the backdrop. My partner did his in the Grand Canyon country of Flagstaff, Arizona. WFR courses are offered in highly visitable settings all over the States--indeed, the world--and y’know what? There are few better-invested ways to spend a week in nature than learning life-saving, life-changing skills in a close-knit group of fellow adventurers.
Y’know, like the close-knit group of fellow adventurers with whom you share your sky--and who are counting on you to be the best team member you can possibly be.
Live up to it.
I took a month long WEMT course and became I licensed EMT for the state of NH. While I think a FR/EMT course is great general knowledge for life, skydiving and particularly BASE jumping in remote locations where licensed medical assistance may not be readily available, I would highly advise looking into your local Good Samaritan Laws. Those laws may not always hold up in court and you may become liable if you do harm even with the best intentions and implied consent (unconcious patient) if you are not licensed in your particular state to practice medicine. Unfortunately, this is the world we live in these days and something to be aware of. I think the best information you will gather from one of these courses in most skydiving accidents is what not to do. Most natural responses from people without medical training and the injured skydivers will likely make the situation worse.
I have used my EMT training at least once a season. I was an EMT before I started jumping. Having the knowledge to stabilize an injury and when to call an ambulance can do a lot to improve an outcome.
Absolutely true, @danornan! Any first aid education is helpful, for sure and for certain. I am of the personal opinion that the balance of skill return to investment of time and trouble is just about perfect in the WFR context, but even an afternoon at the Red Cross is better than nothing. Thanks for your input! :)
Good article but like affirmation, without taking action, just words. The wilderness course mentioned is involved and does take some time. In the mean time though, most communities offer basic first aid and local fire departments can generally direct you to different levels of training. Every skydiver can easily carry a cell phone (disposable one from Walmart !) with important numbers preprogrammed along with a basic map of any new area you might be visiting. This is simple and can make a difference. In the basic first aid courses today the steps are to stabilize and dial 911. Things that anyone can learn.
I did OEC with National Ski Patrol years ago, even though I never became a full patroller. I've also maintained emergency first aid, CPR, AED, etc.
When I crashed and broke both femurs, as you say, I was my own first responder. EMTs were surprised to have the patient give them a full patient care report.
More articles in this category:
- The Other Certification Every Skydiver Needs: A WFR Card - by Annette O'Neil (Posted: 2016-05-05)
- What is In a First Aid Kit - by Adam Rosen (Posted: 2004-05-14)