So there I was, just below 10,000 ft in elevation on the side of Baldy Mountain at Philmont Scout Ranch in northern New Mexico. Bill, the other Ranger I was working with that week, and I were leading a group of Boy Scouts on a week long backpacking trip. We had just sent our kids off to bed for the night and headed down to the staff cabin at Baldy Town.
It had been raining non stop all day, and the temperature was dropping into the 30’s. Earlier that day there had been a bear attack at a neighboring camp, Copper Park. The result was an influx of campers at Baldy town as crews scheduled to stay at Copper Park had been diverted here. While we were in the staff cabin, we heard on the radio that there was a missing camper at another neighboring camp, Head of Dean, and a PhilSaR team had been sent from Basecamp to help look for them.
While we were visiting with the staff, a crew knocked on the door of the cabin needing help. They had three members of their crew who were hypothermic, one of which was in really bad shape. Bill and I decided to stay out of the way as this was a responsibility for the Baldy Town staff. It quickly became aparent that the staff wasn’t well versed in treating for hypothermia as their treatment for the most severe patient consisted of using a disposable space blanket and laying him on the cold hard floor to warm himself.
Once I realized that they weren’t responding to this emergency as well as they should, Bill and I stepped in. I began active rewarming of the patient and had Bill assist me with getting what I needed. At this point, the only training I had for this was First Aid merit badge and the light first aid training we had received during staff training. The current environment we had to treat our patient wasn’t a good one for treating hypothermia as the cabin was only slightly warmer than what it was outside. I told the staff to contact basecamp to request a truck to bring this kid back to basecamp as he didn’t have a way to keep himself warm and dry through the night. It was somewhere around this time that we heard on the radio that the truck carrying the search team that had been dispatched earlier had gotten stuck up to its frame in mud on the road that leads to our camp. I then realized that we were all this kid had for help, as no one else was going to be able to get up to us. Bill and I continued our hypothermia treatments and eventually go the kid to a much better state. Later that night, a truck, carrying one of the bear hunters, came past the cabin coming down from Copper Park. We were able to put the kid in that tuck to send him back down to basecamp.
I learned a lot of things that night. Some of the highlights are as follows:
- Warm water can burn someone with a bad case of hypothermia
- People aren’t always grateful when you save someone’s life
- Not everyone is capable of responding appropriately to an emergency.
- Those of us that know how to respond need to be ready to step up when the need arises.
After this, I realized that I was unprepared as far as training goes to be able to treat medical emergencies in the wilderness. I took a Wilderness First Responder course before the next summer and began looking for ways to be involved with responding to emergencies.
One of the paramedics I worked with talked about the concept of emergencies. Not everyone defines an emergency the same way. For some people, the low battery beep on the smoke detector is an emergency, and I have run on that call before. For others, it may take much more for them to call 911. The fact is that when someone calls 911, its because that’s all they know to do. They’ve reached the point where they can no longer cope with what is happening, and have reached out for help. I stand on the other side of that 911 call to help them through their emergency.