Beyond Cold Water Bootcamp


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Imagine this: It’s late Fall.  You’ve just received a radio call from two fishermen saying they have rescued an individual whose boat had capsized, and who had been in the water for some time. The individual is showing marked signs of hypothermia.   They’re on their way in and are asking for assistance upon arrival.

In situations like these, after calling for an ambulance, it’s best to get set up on shore in advance of the boat’s arrival so that the victim can receive immediate treatment.  Preparations can be made to ‘package’ the victim to prevent any further heat loss.  

shore_rescue_3Key materials to have on hand include:

  • A Stokes litter, backboard or other means to transport the individual. 
  • Insulating material like a sleeping bag or commercial warming bag.
  • A Vapour Barrier (e.g., Plastic Sheeting)

If using a sleeping bag, open it and place the side on which the victim will lie on top of the carriage platform.  This way the sleeping bag can be folded over the victim and zipped up at the side as in normal use.

Since the victim will still be in soaking wetzipped_in_sleeping_bag clothes, you will need to place the  plastic vapour barrier on top of the open sleeping bag (centered) to prevent the insulation from getting wet and losing its effectiveness. The plastic will therefore prevent evaporative heat loss and convective heat loss from the wind, but will also keep the insulation dry.  Fold the sleeping bag over (unzipped) and await the victim’s arrival. 

On arrival, place the victim gently on top of the plastic, wrap it loosely but methodically (make sure you keep the airway clear), and zip the sleeping bag closed.

If there is shelter available, move the victim out of the elements and await the ambulance.

The packaging procedure discussed above should occur in conjunction with normal First Responder checks for A, B, C’s, spinal and other secondary injuries.

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