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Image by Juan MayerIt 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.
We all know that our sport can be dangerous and deadly when accidents occur. When they do occur the best defense is to be prepared to deal with the injuries that may be present. The local paramedics should be called right away but what if your DZ is isolated from the local town or maybe the injury is minor and does not need professional help. What sort of things should you have on your Drop Zone? Where should the first aid equipment be located? What involvement can the local rescue squad, fire department and police department have? All of these questions will be addressed. While one DZ with a trained medical professional may have first aid equipment items A, B, C, D and E. A local DZ without trained personnel may only have A and B. There are many things that can be useful in the case of an emergency but many medical supplies can be dangerous and deadly if you do not have the proper knowledge to use them. Every DZ should have a basic first aid kit. The kit should include bandages to control bleeding, ice packs for injuries, slings for upper extremity injuries, splints for fractures, ace wraps for sprains, sterile saline or hydrogen peroxide or isopropyl alcohol to clean cuts and abrasions. What else should you have? Shears or heavy scissors to cut off clothing, jump suits or rigs if the need arises. A watch with a second hand. This will allow you to accurately check the pulse or respirations per minute. A stethoscope and blood pressure cuff. These are fairly simple to use and you can learn quickly from a trained medical professional how to take an accurate blood pressure. A pen and notepad can be invaluable. They can be used to record the time of injury, pulse, respirations, blood pressure, phone numbers and also to mark where a pulse can be felt on an injured arm or leg. What else can be useful?There are many things that can be useful to someone trained in the medical field. Things that I have found useful at the DZ are oxygen tanks and masks, cervical collars and intravenous equipment to start fluid resuscitation to name a few. These are not things that should be used haphazardly and can be harmful if not used properly by trained medical professionals. However, if you are the DZO or ST&A; at a local DZ and have trained paramedics, nurses or physicians discuss with them what they would be comfortable having available in the event of emergency and have that equipment available to them. Where should you put the First Aid KitThe kit should be placed in a central location. It should be easily accessible and everyone that will be involved in the case of an injury should know its location. There is no point in having it locked in a locker or office if everyone has to go searching for the person with the key. At some larger DZ's there may realistically be a need for more than one first aid kit depending on the layout of the DZ. If you have a trained medical professional on the DZ and have supplies that should be used only by those with a medical license, separate the equipment. Have a central, accessible kit containing only basic equipment including bandages, ice packs, splints, etc. In a more secure location have a second first aid kit with more advanced equipment that will only be given to those who are trained to use it. Get People InvolvedFor the past few years at Skydive Cross Keys the DZO has worked closely with the local fire department and rescue squad. Every spring the local departments come to the DZ with all of their equipment. On site at the DZ they practice extricating a skydiver from a tree and run drills with different accident scenarios. The fire and rescue personnel also get familiarized with skydiving equipment and learn first hand about the helmets, jumpsuits and rigs. Give your local squad a call and find out if they would be interested in doing similar drills at your DZ. Get the local authorities prepared if you are planning upcoming events at your DZ. If you have a boogie, competition or other large event planned let the local fire and rescue department know when the event will run and how many skydivers you expect. This allows the medical personnel to be prepared for injuries. Most large events that are held at my home DZ have an ambulance stationed at the DZ throughout most of the day. As the busy skydiving season approaches for many DZ's step back and evaluate if you are as prepared as you can be. Talk to local jumpers who are medically trained. Open up the old first aid kit that is on the DZ. Are there things that need to be replaced or added to make the kit complete? Call the local ambulance or fire department and invite them to come to the DZ, practice their drills and receive an introduction to the gear they might run into. Accidents do happen, and the best medicine is to be prepared when it happens.