Wilderness EMS classes thriving in rescue-intensive Summit County
October 3, 2009
SUMMIT COUNTY – For assistant professor Brian Taylor, it only makes sense that Colorado Mountain College would have a thriving wilderness emergency medical services program located in what is statistically one of the most dangerous counties in America for outdoor recreation.
With Summit County ranking second in the state in avalanche fatalities since 1950, according to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center, “what better place to learn about avalanches?” Taylor said.
Summit County also is home to one of Colorado’s busiest search and rescue teams for the past 10 years, ranking just behind the Rocky Mountain Rescue Group in Boulder, said Joe Ben Slivka, mission coordinator with the Summit County Rescue Group.
“CMC in Summit County is a perfect place for outdoor enthusiasts to learn wilderness medicine and rescue, and get practical field experience with ski patrol, search and rescue or backcountry guiding,” said Taylor, who helped to establish the college’s wilderness EMS program three years ago.
The program builds new rescuers, providing confidence through realistic training scenarios to prepare them for traumatic injury or acute illness situations, said Billy Hanley, part-time EMS instructor at the college and a full-time wilderness paramedic for Grand County EMS.
“These are people who are not only going into the backcountry, but they are showing up at your front door to take care of you when you call 911,” Hanley noted. “We start building careers for these (search and rescue) volunteers, but we also provide them with the tools they need to take care of their community and the visitors to Summit County.”
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Since the college began offering the wilderness EMS certificate of occupational proficiency in 2006, student enrollment numbers have climbed to 18 to 20 students per class, with a wait-list for popular courses such as survival skills and avalanche beacon workshops. Graduates of the program provide essential rescue services in the region as ski patrollers, park rangers, raft company guides or professionals in ambulance and fire departments, Taylor said.
Working professionals teach the courses, including Taylor, who is a part-time paramedic with the Summit County Ambulance Service and a member of the Summit County Rescue Group.
“It’s an asset to have (the program) here in the high country,” said wilderness EMS student Nancy Landon. “The instructors are familiar with the terrain up here, and they have so much to offer.”
In these days of a very competitive job market, the certificate gives graduates an edge over fellow job-seekers. Landon, age 35, parlayed her Colorado Mountain College training into a ski patrol job at Telluride as well as in EMS with the Telluride Fire Protection District.
The wilderness EMS program includes hands-on classes in areas such as high-angle rescue, swift-water rescue, Alpine rescue, avalanche safety and rescue, outdoor leadership, survival skills and a 45-hour wilderness emergency medical technician (EMT) upgrade. Students don’t need to enter the program with EMT-Basic certification, but must complete it before earning their WEMS certification.
Taylor said the college program is a unique opportunity because it allows students to complete all types of wilderness emergency and medical courses in a comprehensive curriculum. Students become comfortable working in a variety of dangerous environments, from mountains to snow to water.