Colorado Mountain College teams up with Summit Rescue Group for wilderness responder courses
BRECKENRIDGE — For years, Colorado Mountain College has served as one of the area’s premier locations for search and rescue hopefuls and others to train and test their skills in wilderness rescue and medicine.
Since 2005, the college has been offering a wilderness emergency medical services certification program — a yearlong, 320-plus hour course that provides the most up to date, and realistic training possible in wilderness rescue medicine.
But this year, CMC teamed up with Summit County Rescue Group to provide new, discounted courses for rescue team members, including a wilderness first responder course.
“This is our flagship program out of the Summit County campus, to train professional wilderness rescuers,” said Brian Taylor, who serves as an instructor in most of the college’s wilderness EMS classes. “We’re training aspiring guides, outdoor educators, search and rescue workers, special operators and anyone else that wants to be a professional wilderness rescuer.”
The course, which officially wrapped up last week, includes about 30 hours of online learning before participants can take on 50 hours of field drills, or hands-on training, that takes place over five days. On Oct. 1, a group of seven Summit County Rescue Group members and one Alpine Rescue Team member completed the first iteration of the new wilderness first responder training.
For the final field test, the participants gathered near the Windy Point campground off Swan Mountain Road and were bombarded with medical emergencies, forcing trainees to think on their feet, quickly diagnose injuries and illnesses, provide treatment and help evacuate patients. Adding to the difficulty of the scenario, the mock patients were given moulage, or fake wounds, that spurt artificial blood, and the patients did their best to simulate real life pain and panic.
“The students are offered the opportunity to put their skills to the test out here on these simulated patients that we have in full moulage,” CMC instructor Jeremy Deem said. “Our patients are mostly EMTs, so there’s a pretty in-depth knowledge of what the signs of these injuries and illnesses would be. They do a good job of offering the wilderness first responder students the chance to really test their assessment knowledge and skills in providing the interventions they need to help folks get out of their sketchy situations in the wilderness.”
The scenario began with the students arriving on the scene of an accident where a tree fell on two people in the backcountry. The students had to assess the injuries, stop the bleeding and stabilize the mock patients before being relieved by a mock flight crew.
Once the first part of the scenario was complete, the rescue team went to a medical tent, where they were flooded with injuries and illnesses one after another, including everything from simple cuts and broken bones to much more serious issues, such as one patient who suffered heavy bleeding from a moose attack and another who was unresponsive and required defibrillation.
For instructors, the point is to overload the students with as much as they can handle, so they’ll be better equipped to handle high-intensity situations when they come across the real thing.
“It’s one thing if you’re in a classroom learning all of this,” Taylor said. “It’s another when you’re getting patient after patient, and the radios are going off and people are screaming and yelling. That’s what this is all about, running them through this stress inoculation training so they can perform better in the field. They’ve experienced that stress. They know what it feels like, and now they can walk away with tools they need to deal with that stress in the field.”
Rescue group participants also lauded the experience for its realism and said they feel more confident in their abilities as first responders following the course.
“It was difficult,” said Anna DeBattiste, who was with Summit County Rescue Group about seven years ago and took the course to get back into the action. “But it was 100% easier than it was on day one. On day one or two, we had a scenario where somebody chopped themselves with an axe down on the beach. And when I came in as a responder, I froze up. My brain just froze. … And today, I didn’t have a brain freeze. I can see the progress.”
Developing a better class of rescuers
For longtime Summit County Rescue Group members, the partnership with Colorado Mountain College has helped to develop a better group of rescuers than in years past.
Dan Burnett, who’s been with the rescue group for 40 years, said he’s impressed with the new recruits applying to rescue positions out of the college’s programs.
“I think it’s pretty amazing,” Burnett said. “Because the truth is none of the people in my generation had anything near this type of training. … The best people we have are those coming out of CMC. The only people who are better are the ones with multimillion dollar training who are U.S. service veterans. I think CMC will become a point for people all over the world to come here and train for things like this.”
Interest in the rescue group is also growing. There are about 65 volunteers currently on the team. According to Helen Rowe, the group’s training director and vice president, the group had 142 people apply for just 13 positions this year.
Of note, while learning the necessary skillset is obviously key for applicants, Rowe said personality is also a major factor in who gets accepted.
“Our biggest screening factor is not necessarily about skillset,” Rowe said. “It’s more about attitude and how they fit with the team.”
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