Sonoma Ecology Center

Fostering calm, and First Aid skills, in the backcountry

Bobbie Foster’s first and most important message is: stay calm.

Foster, a first aid instructor specializing in teaching people how to handle a wilderness emergency, begins every class with that message, as she did Monday morning at the start of a 16-hour training course at Robert Ferguson Observatory in Sugarloaf Ridge State Park. “I hope you will be pleased with what you are able to accomplish after a two-day class,” she said.

The course was organized by Team Sugarloaf and the Sonoma Ecology Center, and several SEC employees and volunteers were present to learn more about keeping the people in our charge — during our many hikescamps and educational events — safe and secure.

“When you’re on the trail, you may be required to save someone’s life,” noted SEC educator Tony Passantino in introductory remarks.

Foster’s goal, through her company Foster Calm, is to teach nature lovers how to avoid injuries in the backcountry, and how to respond should they occur. She divides the world into “urban” and “backcountry” — and while most medical emergencies in the urban setting are best dealt with by calling 911, those in the backcountry can’t be solved with a phone call. Instead, she says, backcountry emergencies require the immediate help of those present, who must remain calm,  make sound assessments, and show good communication and leadership.

They should be armed with knowledge, too, and Foster provided plenty. Participants learned the importance of making a scene survey, of assessing the patient properly, of zeroing in on the cause and what to do about it.

All of the instruction was interesting, and some of it counterintuitive. For example, Foster said cold is probably the biggest reason for accidents in the wilderness, due to its effects on people’s reasoning and coordination — a phenomenon she calls “cold-stupid.” For warming back up, a person should drink something sweet rather than hot — juice over tea, for example — because it’s the sugar that does the warming. But she agreed that nothing beats hot chocolate.

Heat stroke was covered as well, along with spinal injuries, blood loss, shock — all the contingencies people don’t want to think about, but should. Participants seemed to especially enjoy wrapping each other with makeshift splints.

The next Foster-led class in Sonoma County will be in Santa Rosa on March 28-29. Contact LandPaths for more information.