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ARC Wilderness First Aid vs. Others

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Acronym Alert:

ARC = American Red Cross

WFA = Wilderness First Aid, generally a 16-30 hour course

WFR = Wilderness First Responder, generally an 80 hour course that offers certification

SFA = Standard First Aid, a basic course in first aid for in-town emergencies, typically 6-8 hours

CPR/AED = Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation with Automatic External Defibrillator training, typically a 3-4 hour course.

SOLO, WMI, WMA, etc. = Major national providers of wilderness first aid training

WMS = Wilderness Medical Society, a professional association for medical professionals with an interest in wilderness and remote care medicine

EMS = Emergency Medical System, or professionally trained workers in that system

EMT = Emergency Medical Technician, a professional first responder (can be EMT-W for wilderness trained, -P for paramedic, etc.)



So I'm just curious, eh?


For those who have an EMS or WFR, etc. background, has anybody looked at the ARC WFA course compared with the WFA courses offered by the various providers that have a lot more experience (SOLO, WMI, etc.)?


I'd like to know what you think.


I guess I'm a bit concerned about the rush to ARC programs by scouters, just because what I've seen of the ARC offerings is that they're pretty poor. Materials are weak, and course quality is hit or miss depending on the instructor. ARC really isn't very experienced at da wilderness/remote care side of first aid, nor is the BSA. So that partnership seems to be lackin' input and expertise from da folks who really have been doin' this stuff for years. For example, are any of the WMS bodies consulting on the project?


What are you folks seein' out there?




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To be honest I have not taken any adavcned classes, nor have I taken WFA. So what I am about to say is based upon my reasearch in my attempt to get WFA instuctor training as I am an AHA instructor and was trying to get duel certified.


1) the orignial ARC WFA course was developed by the Transylvania Chapter of ARC. They were the ones that created the program, and they used a Moutaineering FA book as their text. That changed in 2010 when national ARC developed WFA, and I do not know anything else. Can't afford the cost ($150-185) or the time away from the family.


2) BSA came out with a Wilderness First Aid Manual in 2010 and it was written by a Buck Tilton and others reviewed it. The brief bio of him here looks impressive




More on him can be found here



Since he was a cofounder of WMI, and has a number of books on the topic, I think he's a valid source for the BSA book he wrote,as well as any input into the WFA requirements the BSA wants in place.


3) Again I do not know what the 2010 version of ARC goes over, nor who wrote the course material.


4) I know the BSA goes into some detail at this site




5) BSA apparently also has a deal with ECSI as they teach courses at Philmont, and have a way to get WFA instruction relatively cheap, still can't afford it at though as I have looked. http://boyscouts.ecsinstitute.org/


What I want to know about ECSI is this: how good a program are they?



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The ARC Course changed names and text last year, it is now the Wilderness and Remote First Aid Course. The new Student text and Instructor manuals are much, much better.


The previous Student Guide was 8.5 x 11 black and white booklet, 57 pages. We also used the Mountaineering First Aid book - a good text. One of the big problems with the old course was it jumped back and forth between the two books, often causing a lot of confusion with the students.


The new text is refered to as an "Emergency Reference Guide", 6.5 x 9.5, color book similar to other ARC books, 111 pages. A pretty good Pocket Guide is also provided. One of the biggest improvements, IMO, is the course teaches when to Go Slow - evacuate slowly, and when to Go Fast - evacuate rapidly - for different illnesses and injuries.


The new ERG devotes a full page each to Heat Exhaustion, Heat Stroke and Hyponatremia. The text notes that "A patient with hyponatremia will appear to have heat exhaustion. DO NOT treat it as heat exhaustion (i.e. give water). This will harm the person." It then gives some additional details to distinguish between heat exhaustion and hyponatremia. This could be very easy to misdiagnose.

The Guidelines for Evacuation: Go Fast - anyone with an altered mental status or who has had a seizure as a result of heat stroke. GO Slow - anyone who does not fully recover from heat exhaustion or mild hyponatremia.


The old Instructor Manual was 8.5 x 11 black and white booklet for a 3-ring binder, around 115 pages. The new manual is 8.5 x 11 black and white pages in a book, around 200 pages. Much better, IMO.


The editors for the original program included college professors from UNC, Asheville, Brevard College and Clemson. They were all ARC Instructors in many courses. Of the 5, two were WFR, one of them SOLO. The course was developed out of the Transylvania County Chapter, ARC, Brevard, NC.


Our Council offers both ARC and SOLO WFA courses. Someone put together a quick and dirty comparison of the courses. I know it isn't what you are looking for, but here it is: http://www.atlantabsa.org/openrosters/DocDownload.asp?orgkey=1456&id=19652


I'm an ARC Instructor so I may be biased, but I think the ARC WFA course is very good. We have a team of instructors which includes MDs, EMTs, Nurses and WFRs. That may not be typical for most councils. One of the strengths of the course is the scenarios, especially those involving multiple victims. Participants learn how to work as a team so each person plays a part, with a team captain watching the big picture and directing resources where needed.


If you really want to learn the material, don't just take the course - become an instructor and teach a couple of courses each year. Becoming an ARC Instructor isn't easy or cheap, but it is worth it. The ARC Instructor course was $150. Our council reimbursed me $50 for each WFA course I staffed over the next two years, up to the $150.


Side note - as of Jan. 1, 2011 the new ARC CPR/AED certs are good for two years, instead of one.

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Also suggest http://www.scouting.org/sitecore/content/Home/HealthandSafety/Training/wilderness_fa/faq.aspx




http://www.scouting.org/scoutsource/HealthandSafety/amredcross.aspx which is the summary of the agreement with the American Red Cross.


The primary goal of the agreement is for each council to become self-sufficient with its own instructors and trainers of instructors so that BSA staff and volunteers are available to teach the courses whenever and wherever best meets local Scouting needs.




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I took WFA through WFA.NET. The instructor kept the class on topic and on schedule. To the extent that the students commented amoung ourselves that we were reluctant to ask questions. The class cost was more than the ARC class offered by council but I needed the class within a certain time frame to be able to attend a high adventure trip.


As a previous EMT, much of the material was review for me. The human body hasn't changed much in the last 20 years. :^)


Several of the big take away concepts include:

- Hurry cases may die and there is nothing you can do.

- Requesting Medical assitance and/or Transport of the patient will take longer than you expect so plan to spend the night from the begining. This will shape many of your decisions.

- Use and deplete the patients supplies and gear first.

- "Planetary Stablization" Use the ground as a backboard.

- Most non-wilderness First Aid courses limit actual treatment and encourage stablization while waiting on EMS response. Wilderness FA teaches specific treatments which counter Non-WFA training. Shift of mindset for the rescuer.

- Any WFA should not be your inital First Aid class. There is too much information to fully absorb in a short time. Take a basic first aid course at least a month before taking WFA.

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Yah, thanks BrentAllen, that's helpful, eh?


The advantage of ARC is that it's inexpensive compared to the private providers, and of course they have a nationwide network which is hard for the smaller, specialty providers to duplicate. Those things can also be a quality disadvantage.


Eagle92, ECSI has thus far impressed me as being a "hack" outfit. While I like the book, the course and instructor certification process are pretty weak. Sorta a "mail order degree" type of place, which really relies on the ethics and capability of the contracting institution to do a good job. Now to be fair to them, they only contract with universities and similar community organizations, so that seems to be part of their business model. Yeh might even compare 'em to the BSA ;) (just kiddin').


I always get a bit nervous when da BSA tries to "go it on their own" with this stuff. We really don't have the expertise to do it well.



(This message has been edited by Beavah)

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Yeah that' s my concern, the ease of getting certified as an instructor with them. For me it's the cheapest route, and I still can't afford it. I have folks who are instructors for various programs, mostly fire and rescue but one ARC, that I would love to organzie into a training cadre to get the course going as cheaply as possible, but I want to know how valid they are.

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To add to Brent's comments...

The ARC course was developed to address the BSA requirements. In March 2010, BSA Health and Safety Support Committee published the Wilderness First Aid Curriculum and Doctrine Guidelines, as developed by the Wilderness First Aid Task Force. The document can be downloaded from links on the WFA info page: http://www.scouting.org/sitecore/content/home/healthandsafety/training/wilderness_fa.aspx


Wilderness First Aid Task Force

William W. Forgey, MD - Task Force Chairman

Buck Tilton, EMT-W - Co-Founder, Wilderness Medicine Institute

Christine Cashel, EdD - Outdoor Leadership Educator

Charles (Reb) Gregg, Esq - Outdoor Education Legal Expert

Jeffrey L. Pellegrino, PhD - American Red Cross

Arthur (Tony) Islas, MD - Wilderness Medical Society

Loren Greenway, PhD - Wilderness Medical Society

Richard Bourlon - Boy Scouts of America

Ruth Reynolds, RN - Boy Scouts of America

Lindsay Oaksmith - American Red Cross

Richard M. Vigness, MD - Boy Scouts of America

Jennifer Surich - American Red Cross (Staywell)



David Bell, Ph.D. - BSA Aquatics Expert

Pat Noack, - BSA Aquatics Expert

Sven Rundman III - BSA Safety Expert

Brad L. Bennett, PhD CAPT USN (Ret) - Military Trauma Expert


The document also has this text on the title page:

Certification: Organizations and individuals may provide students who successfully complete the attached 16-hour curriculum a certificate of completion of a class that meets the criteria of the Boy Scouts of America for Wilderness First Aid (WFA). The content of this course may not deviate, either through additions or deletions, from the approved curriculum. This certificate will be valid for two years.


The most impact in the class environment comes from the practice scenario sessions. A good instructor helps facilitate the discussion with participants of their past experiences, leveraging them to increase the value to other participants.

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That's a reasonable group, eh? Reb Gregg has been one of da leaders at WRMC for years, and Forgey and Tilton are well known. So it looks like it'll meet the standards of a normal WFA course, even though it's at the bare minimum in terms of time required.


WFA by its nature is not a "certification", eh? There are no performance standards, the way there are for WFR, EMT, or other certifications. Yeh get the certificate of completion if yeh take the course, regardless of whether or not you can demonstrate the skills or knowledge.


I don't get the "The content of this course may not deviate, either through additions or deletions, from the approved curriculum." That's just nonsense. Yeh have to give instructors the ability to adapt to the needs of the class they're teaching and to the likely environment those folks are goin' to be experiencing. The notion of a "teacher-proof" curriculum where yeh just follow the text has been debunked so many times it's laughable. That's not the sort of thing that professionals would likely put in, especially for a senario-based course that requires a degree of instructor judgment. So I can only assume that it was a BSA thing, or that ARC figured on using a lot of not-very-experienced instructors and thought this would work.




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A lot of training courses are like that, just look at WB21C.


I know that with the AHA the courses i've dealt with, Basic Life Support (CPR for pros) and the Heartsaver series of courses (for non medicla folks) all have a video that is played that provides instruction. The instructors are there to answer questions, test skills, and administer the test. In fact you can take 90% of the AHA course online, only going to an approved instructor for the skills check off and possibly the written test (haven't done that yet as the hospital won't pay folks to take it on their own as we provide classes every 2 weeks)

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From the Instructor's Manual:

Certification Requirements


Red Cross certification means that on a particular date an instructor verified that a course participant could:

* Demonstrate competency in each required skill taught in a course. Competency is defined as being able to perform each skill to meet the objective without guidance.

* If the written exam is required, pass the final written exam with a minimum grade of 80 percent. If the final written exam has more than one section, a minimum grade of 80 percent must be achieved on each section.


Achieving course certification does not imply any future demonstration of knowledge or skill at the level achieved on the particular date of course completion.


To successfully complete the Wilderness and Remote First Aid course and receive a certificate indicating Wilderness and Remote First Aid, the participant must:

* Attend all class sessions

* Participate in all skill sessions and activities

* Demonstrate competency in all observable skills

* Complete the scenarios.


An optional final written exam is included in the appendices if needed for certification. If the exam is required, participants must pass the final written exam with a minimum of 80 percent.



We have always given the written test, and assume we will in the future. It is only one section, 25 questions.

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I've not done a Wilderness First Aid course since I added the W designation to my EMT certification back in the 1985 (a certification that has since lapsed). At the time, the WFR certifications were just being developed.


However, I'm frankly a little wary of the Red Cross WFA programs - and not because I have anything against the Red Cross but because it just doesn't seem to be part of it's core mission. It seems to me that to be able to effectively teach WFA, you have to have a lot of familiarity with the outdoors to begin with. I wonder what kind of experience in the outdoors the Red Cross is requiring of people they're certifying as WFA instructors. I know my first question to a Red Cross WFA instructor is liable to be how often to you backpack, camp and hike?

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I think that is why ARC has teamed up with the BSA. The large majority of our instructors are experienced SMs and ASMs. Time around the campfire with other instructors usually involves tales from many High Adventure trips. At age 47 with 3 years as SM and 2 HA trips under my belt, I think there's only one instructor "younger" than me in terms of age and experience on BSA trips, and he has a lot of experience in Ski Patrol. I got to be his guinnea pig when he demonstrated an improvised leg traction splint for a broken femur. Yeah, that was fun. He knew his stuff!

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