May 12 – Welcome to Idaho
Starting off on a new adventure for an extended period of time is an exciting endeavor but can also bring a bit of trepidation… and awkwardness. Arriving at a hotel in Boise after days of driving to get there, I park next to another car stuffed almost as much as mine. I exchange glances with the other driver and wonder “Is she here for SCA too?” But I wait until we’re simultaneously checking in and I hear the words “I’m with SCA” from her to break the ice with a smile and handshake.
This day was full of smiles and handshakes and answering the same questions over and over again as we begin to meet everyone in our group of twenty strong. What’s your name? Where are you from? How’d you get here? What were you doing before this internship? Why are you here?
Thus, our journey begins.
May 13 – Orientation and Our First Project
It’s boring but it needs to be done, the nitty, gritty administrative matters and orientation to the program. We spent the morning unscrambling sentences and timelines, playing jeopardy, making the United States with a piece of string and eating lunch. There was also some serious learning in there, somewhere. SCA’s mission, history, and handbook were all gone over. SCA’s Mission (because it’s so important to know so we can explain it to people who ask what SCA is): To build the next generation of conservation leaders and inspire lifelong stewardship of our environment and communities by engaging young people in hands-on service to the land. We were also visited by two lovely ladies who introduced us to SERVE Idaho and initiated us into AmeriCorps.
The afternoon was spent at the Idaho Botanical Gardens for our first project together. We met Ann, one of the staff members of the gardens, whose main job was weeding and growing native plant species from Idaho’s various ecosystems. She took our group on a tour of the gardens before setting us to work pulling out cheatgrass, a nasty little invasive species that takes over and makes it very difficult for native species to take root and grow. We managed to be at the gardens on one of the hottest days Boise had had so far this year. Lots of water was ingested. But it was worth it to see our hard work after a couple of hours.
May 14 – Road Trippin’
On the road again. Apparently almost every member of our group had the same idea: Why don’t I drive to Idaho. Our group left our hotel in a caravan of 17 cars, no doubt looking quite the sight with our mismatched vehicles and license plates. Most of our 7 hour drive was smooth, abet with many twist and turns through the mountains. The last couple of hours was over rocky, pothole ridden, dusty and torn up dirt roads in our loaded down cars (most of which are sedans).
There were a couple of casualties once we hit the dirt road. Kailee’s car had its oil pan cracked open and needed to be left behind to be picked up later by a tow truck. Ruth’s car ended up with a flat tire, but managed to make it all the way to the place we are going to call home for a few months, Moyer Helibase in Salmon-Challis National Forest. We were lucky that only two cars had trouble. I know I was worried about my little car.
A quick tour and dividing up of accommodations, we all settled in for the night.
May 15 – 16
Probably the most trying couple of days we’ve had (and will have). We had some 4×4 training as well as vehicle safety, maintenance, learning to packing a truck and changing a tire. But our most involved endeavor was our community meetings. We were tasked with the epic duty of deciding as a group, how to make decisions for the next five months. Seems simple, right? But it wasn’t… it really wasn’t. We needed to set up a system to help us make large group decisions for the next few months. What should have only taken an hour, two tops, ended up dragging on for the better part of the day, trying all of our patience and resilience. Debates and discussion dragged on with some of us outspoken and others holding their tongues for the most part. There were good ideas, and some… not so good ideas. But we all wanted to find a common ground, and eventually we got there. We decided on a completely anonymous, discussion-facilitated decision making process. There’s a bit more to it than that, but I don’t want to drag this out like that conversation did.
Suffice to say we can now make decisions about decisions. With some spirit fingers and poker chips thrown in for good measure.
May 18 – 26
In the early morning mist, two warriors descend on our encampment. These men could not be more different from one another, but they come with a common purpose: To train our group for the unexpected and dangerous moments we could come across in the next few months.
In all seriousness, Fernando and Nikos (known simply as Kos) came to train our group to be certified Wilderness First Responders (WFR). This eight day course, with a day off midway through, would prepare all of us to handle medical and traumatic situations and emergencies we could come across during our projects out in the forests of Idaho.
Before we got to the backcountry medicine training, we started off learning and testing for our certification to administer CPR. Talk about diving in head first.
After our CPR training, we got into our WFR training, starting with a basic foundation and formula to follow for every scene we might come across. After we had our bases covered we moved on to different traumatic injuries, medical emergencies, and environmental hazards. Even spread out eight days, this was a lot of information to cover. We spent almost an equal amount of time learning about these situations and what to do through lectures and scenarios. The lectures were very straight forward, Fernando or Nikos would deliver the information and we would take notes and try to stay awake. Some lectures even had video and photos to go along with the info. I didn’t look too closely at those, mangled hands make me a little queasy. The next day after lectures we would have a quick little quiz to determine if we were keeping up with the information being delivered. I particularly liked the bonus questions about Fernando.
The scenarios were a bit more fun and engaging than the lectures, but equally important.
We would all take turns being care providers and patients for a variety of scenarios that would help us get hands on experience without any real injuries or problems. The scenarios started out simply enough, with a single injury/problem to fix and then becoming more complex with more injuries/problems to fix and sometimes, more than one patient to deal with.
The first time I was caretaker for more than just a basic check up was with Fernando #2. Fernando gave us all a taste of what real situations would feel like with his stellar acting. That day we were learning about head injuries. We had two scenarios for the group to see and I volunteered to be a caretaker along with Trevor, Haley, and Dana. Fernando #1 was a D.I.C. head (Disoriented, Irritable, and Combative), and Haley and Dana got to deal with that. Fernando #2 was… a bit different. Fernando #2 falls to the ground, unresponsive, vomits and begins seizing, and Trevor and I have to handle the situation. This was around day 2-3 of our training and I was so not prepared for that. It was, though, a great learning experience.
The first time I was a patient, I had a tibia/fibula break after taking a tumble during a hike. Not sure it was Oscar worthy, but it was a pretty darn good performance.
Our first big test was a nighttime scenario on day four. We had no idea what we were walking into or even how to organize ourselves. Yet somehow, we came out alright. Jeff stepped up and took the lead and we managed to treat our three patients: Nat, Zowski, and Jackie. We lost Nat… but that was going to happen no matter what we did. Zowski and Jackie made it out alright. It also rained on us, giving a touch of realism to our frantic scrambling to help our leaders.
After that, scenarios became more complex but we all embraced that. Our hard work culminated in another Multiple Casualty Incident (MCI), but this time we were prepared, being briefed by our fearless instructors, Fernando and Kos, about how to approach and handle a MCI. This scenario was bigger and badder than the nighttime one, but our group once again did an amazing job. I took on Incident Commander and with the help of my officers Pat (Triage), Robert (Safety), and Amber (Supplies), we managed to do really well. There were things we could have done better or improved, but that’s what these scenarios were for. We get into a situation, respond and then afterwards debrief and talk about what was good and what could be improved.
We ended our WFR training with a round of Jeopardy to review before our exam. The chaos of that game, with our groups of folks, cannot be overstated.
There was a lot to be learned in a short amount of time but it was all worth it. Even having Fernando #2 throwing up on my hands. Thank goodness I was wearing gloves, BSI is very important, people.
To all the other WFRs out there: CAW-CAW!
Now our team is on a well deserved break for Memorial Day. We’re chillin’ out, enjoying the sights and scenes around us and gearing up for our next set of training.
We’re two weeks in. Wish us luck!