Training tomorrow’s leaders

by • August 19, 2013 • Safety MattersComments (0)921

Wilderness safety classes put to use just hours after being learned

For two days in May, snow fell endlessly, making air travel from the village of Anakatuvuk Pass impossible. A group of North America Outdoor Institute instructors had gone to the community earlier in the week to host a wilderness safety challenge game, and they’d ended up stranded. Finally, word came that the skies were clearing, and their plane would arrive shortly.

As they waited at the airstrip, a young woman they recognized from their training came sprinting up.

“Thank you for coming,” she said in a breathless rush. “I’m glad I went to school the day you were here because I was able to use the lessons you taught us in the Wilderness Safety Challenge game to help my uncle. He crashed his snowmachine into a bridge last night, and I knew to tell people to hold his head and get him in an improvised hypo-wrap. Thank you so much for teaching us what to do.”

Instructor Shelley Plumb works with a group of Native youth as they prepare for adventure during a wilderness safety challenge game in Barrow. Debra McGhan

Instructor Shelley Plumb works with a group of Native youth as they prepare for adventure during a wilderness safety challenge game in Barrow. Debra McGhan

She went on to explain that her uncle had injured his neck in the accident and was taken by emergency Medivac to a hospital in Fairbanks. She was relieved to know that playing this game and learning what to do in a situation like this had helped save his life.

A few weeks earlier, a girl in Barrow shared a similar story of a friend who was injured in a snowmachine crash but had a very different outcome.

“My friend broke his neck, but we didn’t know what to do,” she told NAOI education director Dorothy Adler. “It was so cold we wanted to warm him up so we had him get up and move inside. But he died.”

For anyone who recreates in Alaska, knowing what to do in an emergency can mark the difference between life and death.

The Wilderness Safety Challenge game, developed under a grant from the Alaska Division of Parks in 2009, was originally meant for trail users, but is now so popular, it has been expanded to cover year-round outdoor recreation and travel.

From Little Explorers to Wild Alaska Women, the NAOI Wilderness Safety Challenge provides a fun, interactive way to learn and practice survival skills that can save your life.

“Medical emergencies can happen any time, any place,” Adler said. “If you don’t take the time to learn any other skill, everyone should learn wilderness first aid.”

Josh Dufus, a student in Adler’s Wilderness First Responder class last year, learned skills that he put to use in a real rescue in Prince William Sound during a break in the class. He had returned to his home in Whittier for the weekend when he was called on to help after two fishermen fell overboard.

“I couldn’t believe it when I ended up in a situation where I needed the very skills I had just learned in this class,” Dufus said. “I realized that day just how important it is that everyone take the time to get at least some training in wilderness medicine.”

For anyone looking for a career in search and rescue, emergency response, guiding, camp counseling or just because you love adventure, the wilderness safety challenge offers a unique and fun way to learn. The next step for NAOI is to train instructors to teach and facilitate the game for others.

“We are working on developing a program to train instructors through this game,” said Adler. “Alaska is such a big state with so many varied challenges that we need a broad network of trained professionals that can teach others these skills.”

The goal is to teach both adults and youth who will then become leaders and instructors of tomorrow.

“We have found that there are a lot of teenagers with the interest and aptitude for possible careers in fields that require teaching,” Adler said. “And this game is the perfect tool for them to use to share their knowledge with others.”


Call (907) 376-2898 or check out the calendar of opportunities at


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