Expanding Our Roots
BCIT Renewable Resources Students Use Wilderness Survival Skills
(How to deal with an unplanned night in the forest)
Kelly Hatfull- BCIT Renewable Resources Instructor
For the past 2 years, all Renewable Resources students have been learning a new series of courses to ensure they are ready for the physical and safety skill set of working in the back country.
They receive training in first aid ticket (OFA Level 1, plus packaging and transportation), 4x4 training, certification in ATV riding, small boat operations, and safe chainsaw operations. But on their last day of first year studies, they are in a class that lasts for a straight 24 hours, called ‘Wilderness Survival.’
The students can only bring what they would normally wear or carry while working in the forest, including their cruiser’s vest, compass, clinometer, notebook, hard hat and regular safety gear (first aid kit, flashlight, matches, whistle and a knife). BCIT provides a space blanket, glow stick, candle, small folding saw, and waterproof matches. The only food allowed is their lunch.
The course is designed and guided by proven sources of information including SAS (Special Air Services), a British commando training group that trains their troops and clients for survival anywhere on the planet, and the BC Search and Rescue (SAR) that is taught to all volunteer members of Search and Rescue groups around BC guided by PEP (Provincial Emergency Program). Kelly Hatfull, a BCIT instructor for 8 years and a Search Manager / SAR Instructor of the Sunshine Coast Search & Rescue for 23 years designed and teaches the wilderness course along with Jonathan Smyth, a BCIT instructor and Boy Scout leader for over 20 years.
The Wilderness Survival course is designed to focus on the priorities in an emergency wilderness situation. First aid is 80% of wilderness survival. If you are healthy and have the right training, right attitude and the right equipment, the 24-hour course gives the students the confidence to stay calm and focus on the priorities, meaning a vast improvement on survival probability.
The students are taught the theory and background to wilderness survival, work on survival scenarios and then observe shelter building and fire starting. Then they are divided into 2-person teams, given a separate location in the forest to decide their priorities and prepare for the night.
The course takes place at the BCIT Forest Society Woodlot in Maple Ridge in a second growth forest stand, so the students make use of the dead wood and green branches on the forest floor to build their shelter and collect firewood.
Safety is the #1 priority for the students and staff in this course, so an emergency evacuation plan is in place and students must hang any food in a tree, so as not to draw wildlife into their shelters. Fires are only allowed if the forest fire hazard is low, which so far has not been an issue for late April!
The students really enjoy the wilderness experience and for many, this is their first time building a shelter or a camp fire by themselves, and even their first sleep outside under the stars. We’ve managed to hold the sessions on dry nights so far, but it has gone below freezing on one night. However, the students know that there is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing.
The morning after involves a debriefing to discuss what they would do differently; for example shelter and fire location, or the thickness of their green bedding (usually not thick enough). A cup of something hot to drink and a muffin has never been more appreciated than that next morning, after they have totally deconstructed their shelter and the fire pits have been cold trailed.
One student came back to Kelly last year to share her story of nearly having to spend an unplanned night in the forest, but she felt very calm because of her training experience with BCIT and the knowledge that she always carries emergency supplies with her just in case. And that is the primary purpose of the wilderness survival course: to give our students a positive, confidence-building experience that they can build on. That single comment makes all the effort very worthwhile for the instructors and future employees.
Many of our BCIT students will be working throughout BC, and quite a few have expressed interest in joining the local Search and Rescue volunteer group to help their new communities. In fact, BCIT is working to get credit for our Renewable Resources students as Basic Search and Rescue certification, since we cover the skill sets in our 2-year Diploma programs.
BCIT’s motto of ‘Job Ready Skills’ is very evident with courses such as the 24-hour Wilderness Survival, but more importantly, it may save lives and contribute to our local communities as well-trained volunteers.
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