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Trading Beaches for Bandages

March 29, 2024
First responders course

While some students at The College of Idaho might be spending their spring break doing typical college student spring break things, others are covering themselves with fake blood, splinting their classmates and mending dirty, mangled pig’s feet.

The College of Idaho’s Outdoor Program (OP) hosted an immersive, five-day Wilderness First Responder certification course during spring break. This is the tenth year this training has taken place on campus in conjunction with the OP and Mat Erpelding, owner of Idaho Mountain Guides, has instructed half of those sessions.

“These students are approaching hour 50 for the week,” said Erpelding as he expertly demonstrated securing an incapacitated hiker, another student covered in fake blood, to a basket stretcher. “While they might be tired, this training promotes professionalism in the outdoors and instills confidence. These students will now be able to handle whatever the great outdoors might throw at them.”

The Outdoor program routinely takes trips throughout Idaho and the surrounding states often venturing into the backcountry where things aren’t always predictable. And while cleaning and dressing pigs’ feet might seem odd, tending to real flesh provides a layer of realism and immersion most medical mannequins cannot.

“This is great training for getting in the headspace of what you would do if things went wrong,” said Outdoor Program Director Poe Stewart. “Even if help is on the way, you need to know how to stabilize someone until the help arrives.”

The course invites staff and faculty to get involved as well. As with other clubs and programs on campus, faculty representation and involvement are encouraged, if not required.

“I lead off-campus trips, and sometimes we are in quite remote settings in the U.S. and internationally,” said Luke Daniels, a biology professor with the College. “Several of us faculty trip leaders have talked about how it would be beneficial for more of us to have the training to deal with injuries or medical problems in the field.”

Beyond the College and the OP, this certification serves the broader outdoor community emphasizing safety and situational awareness.

“The students always come away from this training with more confidence to manage tense situations regardless of their surroundings,” said Stewart. “The WFR is the industry standard baseline certification for outdoor educators, guides, etc. And as a requirement for any working professional in the outdoors, all our OP instructors take this course.”

The Wilderness First Responder certification course is offered annually on the College’s campus during spring break and is open to the students, staff, faculty and the public. Candidates spend 80 hours between the virtual classroom and the field. Upon completion, participants graduate with their certification and two college credits. Graduates are required to recertify, through a shorter recertification process, every three years.

Contact Poe Stewart for information about next year’s certification.

To view more photos from the Wilderness First Responder course, click here.

The College of Idaho has a 133-year-old legacy of excellence. The College is known for its outstanding academic programs, winning athletics tradition, and history of producing successful graduates, including eight Rhodes Scholars, three governors, and countless business leaders and innovators. Its distinctive PEAK Curriculum challenges students to attain competency in the four knowledge peaks of humanities, natural sciences, social sciences, and a professional field—empowering them to earn a major and three minors in four years. The College’s close-knit, residential campus is located in Caldwell, where its proximity both to Boise and to the world-class outdoor activities of southwest Idaho’s mountains and rivers offers unique opportunities for learning beyond the classroom. For more information, visit