Outdoor First Aid at Powermills Bunkhouse on Dartmoor run by First Aid 4 Life

Last weekend myself and Sarah once again made the (now very familiar) journey from Bristol to Dartmoor. Rather than the usual mix of hiking, camping, tor bagging and outdoor swimming (and beer) our trips to Dartmoor usually involved however, this trip was a little different – we were attending a two day course in Outdoor First Aid, run by First Aid 4 Life, at Powdermills near Princetown.

Despite coming from a medical family, I have had little formal first aid training (I am not counting starring, with my brothers, in my Dad’s ‘medical emergencies in the home’ slide deck when I was a kid!), and it has always bothered me that I am not at all equipped to deal with even the most simple of injuries especially in an outdoors setting. Even more of a concern for two people who swim in remote areas together is that neither Sarah or myself are up to date on CPR. Whilst we try to minimise the risk (and hopefully it will never happen) as it stands drowning would be catastrophic. Sarah, with young children, has been keen to do a first aid course for a while as well so, given our outdoor-centric hobbies, it made sense for us to sign up for one specific for the outdoors (being on Dartmoor was just a bonus!)

We arrived on Friday evening to a grumpy Dartmoor with rain (that had started the moment we passed the Devon sign on the motorway) pelting the windscreen as we drove through the fog from Princetown to Powermills bunkhouse. We had the bunkhouse to ourselves (other than April who was staying in a camper van outside), so we settled down to relax in front of the log fire with dinner and a bottle of wine listening to the rain outside. This was the second time we have stayed at the bunkhouse – the first time was after our aborted attempt to walk the Lich Way and the common room was filled with wild food enthusiasts then so we did not get to see much of it. It would be a great venue to book for a group weekend out on Dartmoor….. (Social Hiking social anyone?!)

The course was being held in the bunkhouse common room itself, so we did not have to go far. There were about 18 people taking part including members of Dartmoor mountain (and cave) rescue, school and scout instructors, a campsite owner and walking (and cycling) guides. The course was run by two trainers Sam and Stella (husband and wife) who made a fantastic double act throughout both days as they taught and assessed us for our ITC Certificate in Outdoor First Aid qualification (recognised by most Outdoor National Governing Bodies Instructor Awards including Canoeing & Kayaking (BCU) and Mountaineering & Rock Climbing (MLTUK)).

First Aid 4 Life van

The first part of day one was essentially to teach and reinforce the key procedure to follow in an incident – the ‘ABCDE’: each part was taught, practiced and discussed, and this was repeated until we could run through the entire procedure. It took me a short while to overcome the awkwardness of pretending to check for breathing, shouting for help etc, but with everyone doing it around you, you soon get used to it. We continued throughout the day ‘fleshing out’ the details, for example vital signs, dealing with wounds and bleeding, and moving patients into a recovery position. One of the big topics covered in the afternoon was CPR (both for cardiac arrest and drowning) – of particular interest to us, but it also highlighted the difficulties of first aid in remote settings. Ultimately without a defibrillator to hand a casualty suffering a cardiac arrest is unlikely to last more than 15 minutes even with CPR.

Just under half the group were staying at the bunkhouse for the Saturday night, and it was enjoyable evening chatting over a few drinks (made all the better after I remembered that The Warren House Inn up the road does take out!). I am glad I opted for the top bunk as, to our surprise, we awoke to a glorious sunny morning and I spent a short while on the bunk enjoying the gentle warm breeze through the window above me listening to the lambs. Sitting up I could look across the moor to Longaford Tor on the ridge above.

View of Longaford Tor from Powermills Bunk house

The first part of the morning was spent covering soft tissue injuries and major injuries. As well as learning how to use a triangular bandage, there was an interesting session where we attempted to use various bits of kit, such as a spare inner tube, a rope or a kayak spray deck to support a dislocated shoulder or broken arm. More serious injuries were discussed, in particular the hard decisions that you would need to make to decide whether to attempt to save someone’s foot by straightening broken legs. Makes me shudder just thinking about it!

The main session in the afternoon was outdoors working through scenarios to practice our knowledge and to give us specific outdoor related challenges. In the scenario in the photo below (photo stolen from First Aid 4 Life’s twitter feed – @firstaid4life), the slope represents a much larger hillside with an unconscious casualty with no obvious means of injury. Both the multiple layers of outdoor clothing (it was sunny but wet on the ground) and the unstable position of the casualty adds to the challenge (although I am pleased to report that my casualty, @WildRambling, survived my care!).

First aid scenarios on Dartmoor

The final scenario, which I will not give away, was a harsh example of how there is no right answer and decision making can seem impossible when faced with a major injury. As well as the first aid, it was really nice to spend a few hours on Dartmoor!

Back in the bunkhouse we finished off discussing conditions like angina, asthma, epilepsy, as well as stings, ticks, anaphylaxis, hyperthermia and hypothemia. With the later it would seem that, as outdoor river swimmers, we are essentially giving ourselves onset hypothermia for fun…. albeit in a managed and controlled way…. The final part, which was fascinating although brief (as it was the end of the day) was about first aid kids and the recommended contents – I will definitely be working through the list they provide on their website now I actually know how to use most of it!

I would really recommend this course for anyone interested in taking a first aid course – the location is wonderful and the trainers were excellent (and patient – I am one of those people that asks too many questions!!). The provision of real coffee and decent biscuits was also a really nice touch. A massive thanks as well to everyone else on the course who helped make it a fun and enjoyed few days to spend on Dartmoor not tor bagging!


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