Anyone could easily find themselves facing a medical crisis while beyond the reach of formal medical services. Recent history has shown us that the transition from cozy and civilized to feral and desperate takes only moments. While natural disasters such as hurricanes and tornados typically come with at least some modest warning, terror attacks, earthquakes and tidal surges can materialize out of thin air. The skill sets you can act upon and whatever basic gear you can scrounge will be all there is to aid in your survival.
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From teaching the proper way to remove a splinter from underneath a fingernail to managing a life-threatening open pneumothorax away from a functioning hospital, survival medicine training facility SOLO uses practical engagement to teach students life-saving skills in a safe and effective way. The breadth of SOLO courses ranges from basic skills to preserve and extend life in an acute crisis all the way up to advanced applications that might be required to keep an entire survival group healthy and mobile over the long-term. Whether the application is urban, suburban, nautical or true wilderness, SOLO offers training to make you a more viable survivor in any environment.
In operation since 1976, Stonehearth Open Learning Opportunities, or SOLO, is the world leader in wilderness medical training. With experience-based training programs both in the U.S. and abroad, as well as top-flight instructors with plenty of real-world experience, SOLO teaches survival medicine for those times when you can’t go around the corner to the emergency room. Formed originally by Dr. Frank Hubbell, the SOLO training program sprouted out of Dr. Hubbell’s involvement in one of the first paramedic training programs in the U.S.
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SOLO is headquartered on a 300-acre hilltop campus near Mount Washington in New Hampshire that sports dormitory and cafeteria facilities. SOLO has trained more than 375,000 students over the last four decades in survival and wilderness medicine techniques. Target audiences include recreational hikers and boaters all the way up to professional wilderness guides as well as physicians, nurses and paramedics who might find themselves needing to ply their trades in an austere environment. There are few, if any, prerequisite skills required for the majority of its courses, and SOLO offers specific medical skills certifications for a variety of specializations.
While the SOLO headquarters is in New Hampshire, the school also maintains subsidiaries around the country. The SOLO banner also maintains mission clinics in Africa as well as recurring training programs within the Amazon basin.
Much has been made of the “golden hour.” This term represents the first hour after a serious wound or injury, and statistics have shown in military applications that if a patient does not get to the bright lights and skilled tables of a formal medical facility within this critical first 60 minutes, their probability of survival drops precipitously. The overriding intent of most of SOLO’s training programs is to bridge that gap between the point of injury and definitive care, and in so doing extend the golden hour into something more practical in a wilderness environment.
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The term “wilderness” can be misleading, and SOLO uses it to describe any scenario wherein formalized medical support may not be readily available. While the traditional perception of a wilderness environment might be the heart of the Amazon jungle or the mountainous peaks of Alaska, survivors trapped in downtown New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina were comparably bereft of formal support. As a result, the applications of wilderness medicine to both medical providers and laypersons become both geographically and infrastructure dependent.
Experiences by SOLO instructors during earthquake relief operations in Haiti drove the company to craft training programs around disaster preparedness as well as more conventional wilderness medicine scenarios. Crisis situations can range from natural calamities such as tornados, earthquakes and hurricanes to terrorist attacks or bridge failures that unexpectedly isolate an urban area. SOLO offers austere medical training programs appropriate for all.
SOLO’s Southeastern facilities focuses on programs most pertinent to the Southern states. These range from local courses offered on its Florida and North Carolina campuses to expedition-based training experiences in the Amazon. Its hands-on courses include Wilderness First Aid, Wilderness First Responder, Wilderness EMT and Wilderness First Aid Afloat programs, each of which is tailored to specific skills and qualifications.
The Wilderness EMT course is SOLO’s flagship program. Consisting of an intense on-site, 30-day course of instruction that results in a formal Emergency Medical Technician certification when complete, SOLO’s Wilderness EMT training produces graduates with the skills and mindset to save lives under austere circumstances. The course is broadly intended for those who could potentially work as professional medical personnel in fire departments, ambulance crews or rescue squads away from a source of definitive care.
The course is more than 170 hours long, spread out over four weeks and combines the standard Department of Transportation Emergency Medical Technician (DOT EMT) curriculum along with wilderness-specific medical training focusing on long-term care. This course is currently taught at SOLO and the North Carolina base, and is offered six to eight times per year.
Wilderness First Aid (WFA) is SOLO’s most popular course and it teaches a solid foundation in the basics of backcountry medical care. Evolving from the “Mountain/Woods First Aid” course in 1975, this was the first program of its kind in the United States. The WFA curriculum is the basis upon which all other backcountry medicine courses are taught. Wilderness First Aid is a 16-hour, two-day course that focuses upon the basic skills of injury response and assessment, musculoskeletal injuries, environmental emergencies, survival skills, soft tissue injuries and medical emergencies. SOLO’s Wilderness First Aid Afloat course is focused on survival skills required to keep oneself alive on the water, and it is the first course of its sort to be approved by the U.S. Coast Guard. This course has already trained members of the Florida Park Service as well as the state’s Fish and Wildlife personnel, and it includes everything in the SOLO Wilderness First Aid course except altitude sickness. This course additionally covers such challenges as seasickness, marine bites and stings, and injuries common to maritime activities. The skills covered by this training are applicable to kayakers, recreational boaters and anyone who might venture out onto open water. A more modest one-day course cleverly titled “H2O-to- Go” focuses on basic water-rescue skills.
The SOLO Wilderness First Responder course is the recognized industry standard for wilderness medical training for those who serve as camp counselors, backcountry trek leaders, mountain or river guides and ski patrollers. This course is sufficient to make anyone who spends any significant time in the wilderness a more viable survivor.
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Where appropriate, SOLO courses result in formally recognized medical certifications. Basic skills come from the Wilderness First Aid and Wilderness First Responder classes. The SOLO Geo Medic course covers more advanced long-term care skills like suturing wounds and the proper use of antibiotics as well as the field management of tropical diseases. While basic courses produce certifications, more advanced programs like Geo Medic feed into ongoing medical education that is individualized for the particular participant.
ENHANCE YOUR FIRST-AID SKILLS
SOLO offers a number of classes covering every important aspect of wilderness medicine that will fit your learning style. Find one that fits your needs and maximize your backwoods skill sets.
+ Prepping for a Disaster
+ Wilderness First Aid
+ Wilderness First Responder
+ Disaster Wilderness First Responder
+ Wilderness Emergency Medical Technician
+ Wilderness First Aid Afloat
+ Geo Medic
+ Wilderness First Responder Recertification
+ Wilderness First Aid
+ Advanced Wilderness First Aid
+ Advanced Wilderness First Aid Part II
+ Wilderness EMT Module
+ Search & Rescue
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SOLO’s most popular course is its Wilderness First Aid, which covers all the basics of backcountry medical care and provides the foundation for all other courses taught. Your 16-hour, two-day course will cover the following:
+ Anatomy of a wilderness crisis
+ Anatomy of the human musculoskeletal system
+ Backcountry essentials
+ Cold-related injuries
+ Environmental emergencies and survival skills
+ Heat-related injuries
+ Medical emergencies and critical care
+ Patient assessment system
+ Patient lifting and moving
+ Principles of fracture care
+ Rescue plan
+ Response and assessment
+ Soft-tissue injuries and medical emergencies
+ Spinal cord injury management
+ Sprains and strains
+ Trauma-musculoskeletal injuries
+ Universal precautions
+ Use of epinephrine
More than a decade in the making, WILD-CARE is a comprehensive medical text on practical wilderness medicine penned by Dr. Hubbell. This handy textbook is available in both hard copy and electronic versions, and it provides an overview of the practice of medicine in unimproved environments. This focused treatise is 330 pages long and can serve as a critical reference for anyone who might potentially find themselves facing medical challenges away from formal facilities.
The SOLO instructors come from military, government and civilian medical backgrounds. All of them bring along a wealth of practical medical experience, and many of them are military veterans. SOLO instructors are certified EMTs and have served as backcountry rangers. Unlike some other training programs, SOLO teaching remains hands-on and practical. Instructors demonstrate and teach rather than simply moderate students’ experiences.
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Each course involves short quizzes and psychomotor exercises throughout, and culminates with a practical exam covering the skills acquired in the program. Some exams have written components but all include real-world practical scenarios wherein students get to practice their skills for real. Most courses include actors professionally made up to simulate genuine casualties.
SOLO has also teamed up with Byron Kerns of byronkernssurvival.com to offer an extremely realistic combination Wilderness First Aid and Survival course that results in two formal certifications and includes such high-speed amenities as aerial supply drops.
SOLO is the oldest continuously operating school of wilderness medicine on the planet, and its Wilderness Medicine Newsletter provides an easy way to expand your knowledge base and keep current on perishable medical skills.
Should your day job contain a nexus to survival in an austere environment or if you simply want to be a more robust citizen who might remain a lesser burden on relief services in a crisis, SOLO has the training to get you there. For more information, visit soloschools.com or call 603-447-6711.
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This article was originally published in the SURVIVOR’S EDGE™ Fall 2015 edition. Subscription is available in print and digital editions here.