Wilderness emergency care and rescue

A medical emergency often prompts action from first responders within minutes of a 911 call.

But when an emergency happens in a vast wilderness such as Banff National Park, help can take time to arrive.

“Often there is no cellphone coverage in the national park. If you are hiking and can’t see the town of Banff, you simply won’t be able to use your phone,” says Kevin Palmer, a Paramedic with Banff Mineral Springs Hospital.

Kevin says there are unique challenges emergency management service teams face when providing emergency care and rescue in the wilderness.

“It takes hours or even a day to organize a rescue and it only happens during the daytime. We can’t get to you at night because helicopters can’t be used once darkness sets in.”

The Banff Wilderness Care Conference features best practices in backcountry rescues and emergency care.

Whether injured, lost or caught in an avalanche, people need to be prepared to survive while waiting for help to arrive, Kevin says.

Because of the unique and specialized nature of care in this environment, Kevin and his colleagues at the Banff hospital are organizing and hosting this year’s Banff Wilderness Care Conference (May 24-26).  

This is the only conference in Western Canada designed to equip medical teams with knowledge and skills in providing care and rescue in the wilderness and other austere environments. Participants often are first aiders, firefighters, doctors, paramedics, rock climbers and backcountry enthusiasts, among others.

The paramedics at Banff plan to hold workshops along with lectures featuring speakers from the Alberta Paramedic Association and experts from the United States who will share new insights and best practices in this highly specialized field.

Kevin says trauma, especially head injuries, comprise a big chunk of the emergencies they respond to every year.

“Slipping on ice, being hit on the head by a falling rock or taking a tumble—these are some of the reasons people get injured while exploring the park.”

More than four million people visit Banff every year, mostly during spring and summer. The town is home to about 8,000 residents.

Kevin notes he and his team have seen a rise in injuries—broken bones, head injuries and others—during the winter because more people are taking up extreme sports or performing tricks they saw online, which only experienced mountain climbers and skiers should be doing.

The conference will cover a range of topics including Lyme disease and ticks, water purification, wound closures, avalanche rescue, map and compass basics, survival (shelters and fires), and hypothermia management and prevention.

Paramedics at the Banff Mineral Springs Hospital, a Covenant Health facility, serve as hosts and facilitators at this year's wilderness care and rescue conference.

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