Let’s look at getting an emergency medical technician – basic (EMT-B) certification as the basis for growing your wilderness and grid-down medicine skills. An EMT-B is capable of providing basic life support in the forms of CPR, first aid, and trauma care. In addition, you learn how to do basic patient assessments as well as the protocols for participating in a mass casualty incident and doing triage. You’ll also learn the FEMA Incident Command System that is the basis for any multi-agency response to anything, from a house fire to the Yellowstone Caldera erupting and eating one third of the country.
You’ll get to learn how to do some cool guy stuff like:
- Treating a sucking chest wound
- Using a tourniquet to stop an extremity hemorrhage
- Using hemostatic agents and packing wounds to stop extremity hemorrhages
- Using an automatic external defibrillator
And much, much more.
The reality is, moving on to wilderness and grid-down medicine will go much more smoothly if you get a basic understanding of human anatomy, physiology, pathophysiology and identifying and treating maladies in the grid-up world.
There are two main ways to get your EMT-B education that will allow you to take a certification test.
1. Community colleges: This is the cheaper route in general. It’s going to take about 200 hours of your life with a couple of night classes a week and one Saturday a month over a span of about four months. The benefit of meatspace is the hands on work of doing basic assessments and skills. You’ll do scenarios with groups – and those are fun. It’s a good mix of lectures and hands-on work. Here’s a list of accredited EMT courses from the Journal of Emergency Medical Services.
Benchmark costs, these come from the community college system in a metro area of about 500,000 people:
- $180.00 EMT Tuition plus fees
- $7.50 Liability Insurance (Required)
- $5.50 Accident Insurance (Recommended)
- $5.00 Tech Fee (Required)
- $12.00 CAPS Fee* (Required)
- $21.00 Lab Fee (Required)
- $185.00 textbook and workbook
- $60.00 uniform ( Required)
- $60.00 Physical Exam (Required)
- $509.00 Total
2. Online resources: There’s not a really easy answer on this one. There are online courses, and they can tend to cost two to three times as much as the community colleges, as these are private companies that need to make money, and do not have subsidies from state governments to back them. What you gain in convenience, you do lose in not having a group of people to regularly conduct skills, assessments, and scenarios with. In any online program, you will have to report to a location to do your hands-on practical exam if not your written test. Any online program that says you can do it without doing the practical exam should not be trusted.
Getting your patch
The National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians is the national credentialing body for EMTs. They administer a written test on a computer and conduct a “psychomotor” test, which is the practical exam. States that honor the National Registry certifications tend to have reciprocity, so in the event of another Katrina-type disaster, it is easier to cross state lines and function in another locality. Your state may require that you get the state certification instead, and it’s still a written exam and practical exam.
Once you get your EMT-B certification, you can apply at volunteer fire services and EMS agencies to practice.
You’ll need to take 72 hours of continuing education over the three years that your certification is valid.
Something a little easier and cheaper
If getting your EMT-B is too much at this point, that’s totally understandable. Look into what the American Red Cross has in your area for basic first aid and CPR courses for the lay person. They are a start, and they run around $100 for an eight-hour class.
Most importantly, people that are doing these things have mindsets similar to yours. They are being prepared. These classes are excellent opportunities to meet like-minded people and expand your network.
Once you get these done, the Wilderness Medicine world will be easier to absorb. There are lots of courses available through the Wilderness Outdoor Leadership Society Wilderness Medicine Institute. Some of their stuff can get a little pricey, but it’s all about priorities.