Fall colours at Birdseye Ranch, Waterton (Photo by Brent Calver)

Fall colours at Birdseye Ranch, Waterton (Photo by Brent Calver)

Not your average first aid course

NCC staff demonstrate how to carry a wounded coworker using the clothes off their backs (Photo by NCC)

NCC staff demonstrate how to carry a wounded coworker using the clothes off their backs (Photo by NCC)

Leta Pezderic, natural area manager for Prairie Grasslands Alberta, joined the NCC team in April 2015. She and her husband live in the coulees alongside the Oldman River — a perfect place for their three boys and all their critters to roam free! She wrote this story to provide background on the type of training the conservation staff are provided with to keep them (and others) safe in the field.

In my role as the Nature Conservancy of Canada’s (NCC’s) natural area manager for the Prairie Grasslands, I work in some of Alberta’s most beautiful areas, many of which are quite remote. Most of the area I manage has no cellular service or access to medical services, so we depend on satellite safety devices, which allow us to check in with our co-workers so everyone knows we are okay.

There is a sense of security in having these satellite devices, but the reality is that we are a long way from help if we really need it. This makes us ask ourselves: “If something happened, am I truly prepared for an emergency? Could I conduct first aid/CPR long enough to keep someone alive while rescue units try to find us? Could I get a fire going with limited resources and build a shelter? Do I have the proper equipment in my pack and know how to use it?”

NCC staff Leta Pezderic demonstates an impaling wound (Photo by NCC)

NCC staff Leta Pezderic demonstates an impaling wound (Photo by NCC)

To prepare for these types of scenarios, NCC Alberta Region’s conservation operations team completed a three-day wilderness and remote first aid and CPR/AED course in Canmore, Alberta, in April. I’ve taken standard first aid and CPR/AED courses in the past, and they’re great for the emergencies that happen where you have access to paramedics and AED equipment. Wilderness and remote first aid assumes that you don’t have any of these things, and we were trained on how to best respond to some major wilderness emergencies.

During previous first aid courses I found myself asking instructors questions like, “Say I am in the middle of nowhere, and the nearest hospital is two hours away. I have no cell service, and my summer student gets attacked by a cougar…”

These questions resulted in other course participants asking me what kind of job I had that put me in those situations!

This specialized course addressed a lot of my questions about scenarios that we are more likely going to face because of the type of work we do, and I feel better prepared because of it.

NCC staff at first aid training (Photo by NCC)

NCC staff at first aid training (Photo by NCC)

What I felt really took this course up a notch above your typical first aid course was that we were all part of an act. Makeup, props and scenes were used to simulate an actual emergency. Our scenes were chosen based on scenarios that we were most likely to encounter in our line of work. They ranged from vehicle collisions, burns, ATV accidents and bug bites, to heat stroke and heat exhaustion, hypothermia, frost bite, and of course a bear attack!

The one thing I wasn’t expecting was that it ended up being a great team-building activity. Knowing that the group you work with is trained, and that they’d be willing and able to carry you down a steep hill in a sling that they made from their own clothing (because they actually did so during the course), feels pretty comforting.

I appreciate that NCC takes safety so seriously, and I am grateful for the opportunity to be better equipped to handle an emergency at work and anywhere else. We had a lot fun, but at the end of the day we all hope that we never have to use any of the information we learned!

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