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Wilderness Survival: Emergencies, First Aid, and Knives

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Talking Stick is offering a new program this fall: Wilderness Survival, and I am very excited to facilitate it. In an earlier part of my life, I served as an Infantry Officer in the U.S. Army. And in a much early part of my life, I was an Eagle Scout, and I currently volunteer at a local Cub Scout pack. I enjoy being in the outdoors, and in the wild, and being able to take care of myself and the environment and ecosystems around me. I am very familiar with Talking Stick and our mission. This is the first program that I have facilitated with Talking Stick; Paige Menton and Heather Gray, whom many of you know, are facilitating with me.

The point of this program is that anyone can find themselves in an emergency where solid Wilderness Survival skills can become very important. My view on Wilderness Survival is as simple as possible: get rescued. It won’t be a program about how to live in the wild indefinitely, but to be able to survive long enough in the wild to be rescued. The skills we will discuss can be used for the rest of a person's life, and in a variety of situations, from the wild to the city. Much of the instruction will include my former training in the military and in Scouts, but with a focus on peaceful interaction and minimal environmental impact.

So, the plan is to study how to survive wilderness emergencies by addressing the following steps:

• S.T.O.P. (Stop, Think, Observe, Plan)
• Provide First Aid
• Find Shelter
• Build A Fire
• Signal For Help
• Drink Water
• Don’t Worry About Food

Each participant was given a notebook to use just for this program, and will be constructing their own Survival Kit as the program progresses.

Here is a little recap of what we have done so far...

Week 1: Introduction and Preventing Emergencies

(September 15, 2015) This first week was spent inside, sitting around a table, discussing the goals for the program as well as wilderness survival theories. We started off by having each participant answer three questions:

  1. What are you imaging this program will be about?
  2. Can you imagine a situation where you might need Wilderness Survival skills?
  3. Why are some things you hope to learn in this program?

After discussing their answers (and explaining why, as fun as it sounded, we would not be building a fort to live in for a week), we read some real-life survival stories, and then I led the discussion on what Wilderness Survival is, and when you might need Wilderness Survival skills.

Then we shifted gears to get into the major focus of the program for this day: Preventing Emergencies. We discussed how Leadership, Trip Planning, Proper Gear, Good Communication, Discipline, Self Control, and a Positive Attitude can prevent most emergencies from occurring, and certainly make an emergency keep from becoming much worse.

Additionally, we included several personal stories of emergency situations we've found ourselves in, and the contributions from the other Facilitators, Paige and Heather, were really helpful, funny, and engaging.

The last part of the program was spent discussing an acronym that describes what you should do if you find yourself in an emergency situation: S.T.O.P. That stands for Stop, Think, Observe, and Plan, and was the one thing I hoped most everyone would take away from the day.

Week 2: Basic First Aid and Basic Knife Safety, Part I

(September 22, 2015) When I planned out this second week, my hope was to be inside discussing first aid theory during the first half, and then outside doing practical first aid exercises during the second half. The discussion part was really lively, though, and ended up taking up most of both parts. Since first aid is so critical to survival, it seemed like extra time well spent.

We covered a range of topics, but only reviewed the most basic parts. There is always so much more to learn. We are not certifying in first aid or CPR or anything like that, but trying to present an overview of the most likely first aid situations you might find yourself in, as well as the basic steps you can take to help someone stay alive until help arrives. We covered: Controlling Bleeding, Shock, Hypothermia, Frostbite, Dehydration, Heat Exhaustion, Broken Bones, Blisters, Insect Bites & Stings, and Snake Bites.

Understanding that this was a lot of information, we moved through it by mixing in a variety of stories from the facilitators and well as the participants of real life first aid situations we have experienced. I also prepared a PDF with the information that I will be sending out via email to the parents of the participants.

The personal stories were such a big hit the week before that we included them again this week. Both Heather and I have experienced a range of injuries in our lives, and while you may have been lulled by Paige describing a paper cut she once received, What Happened Next Will Blow Your Mind. I really appreciated both of their contributions.

As we reached the end of the program, we switched to Basic Knife Safety. From my perspective, the knife is most important tool you can have in a survival situation. As part of this program, Talking Stick will be issuing each participant a knife to add to their survival kit; however, the knives will only be used during the program under close supervision, they will be collected at the end of each day, and only given to each participant to take home at the end of the program (where parents can take over responsibility for their use).

I wanted to get the same knife for each participant to use, so that we could all train with the same tool. However, before we issued out the knives, there was a bit of Knife Safety Theory we needed to cover:

• Demonstrate proper handling, care, and use of knives
• Use a knife as a tool and not a plaything
• Respect all safety rules
• Respect property. Cut living and dead things only with permission and good reason

Week 3: Basic First Aid and Basic Knife Safety, Part II

(September 29, 2015) This week, I was determined that we got outside, but I wanted to make sure we really reinforced the First Aid and Knife Safety from the week before.

We started off when a listing of the first aid topics on a white board, and as I called them out participants were encouraged to to shout out symptoms and treatments. I was absolutely impressed with the amount of retention! Some of the participants took copious notes (M has over 15 pages!), and others work better with short notes or no notes at all; but all the participants were responsive and engaged and were starting to know their stuff.

After that review, I introduced the participants to the knife we were going to use. I demonstrated its many uses (this particular knife is a favorite among firefighters and EMTs and emergency responders; it has a built in glass-breaker and seat belt cutter) and showed them how easy it is to open and close, even with only one hand. Then I spend some time reinforcing the Knife Safety Theory before we took a short break.

When it came time to issue the knives, there was a palpable stillness in the room, which is not always common in a room of teenagers. Each participant received the same knife that I demonstrated with, and then we moved outside to practice opening, closing, and handling the knives. Everyone was very respectful and careful... but I found it still a little unsettling to hand a group of very nervous people a large tool -- that could also be a weapon -- and have them standing in a circle around me with their blades out, staring at me to tell them what to do next. After a few minutes they got comfortable, which can really be the most dangerous time, as you must guard against complacency.

I think the adults were more nervous than the teens, and I am very grateful that Paige and Heather were there to help. Here are some pics; there is a little more content following them:

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There was no blood, no accidents, no goofing off, so we moved on to the next activity: a short walk through the arboretum where we collected sticks for a carving project we will do next week. Paige and Heather also helped me set up a surprise: some of the participants were given "script" cards describing an emergency first aid situation they were to act out as the victim.

Wilderness-Survival3dWhen Z was afflicted with a Deep Bleeding Wound and started going into Shock, it became a great experiment to see who could recall what to do. Everyone really stepped up wonderfully, and then N suddenly started showing signs of Hypothermia, but was properly assessed and treated.

We then went back into the classroom, and I had each of the participants put their knives into their Survival Kit bags, which I then collected and took home; I will bring them back each week and we will continue to add to the kits.

All in all, a great start, these past three weeks. We now have the basic skills to move into a sort of Part II, where we will spend much more time (if not all the time) outside in the arboretum, learning about how to make a fire, how to make a shelter, and how to signal for help.

I have something special in mind for the last week, which I can't wait to share with you all.

-- Adrian