Coldwater Bootcamp


November 10, 0900-1600 MST
Provided By: Gordon Giesbrecht, PhD, FAsMA, FAWM, FWEM and Joshua Bezanson MD, MS, BJourn, ACP, FP-C

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November 10, 0900-1600 MST
Provided By: Gordon Giesbrecht, PhD, FAsMA, FAWM, FWEM and Joshua Bezanson MD, MS, BJourn, ACP, FP-C

Accidental hypothermia is a real threat during cold-weather or cold-water exposures in recreational, military, law enforcement or even search and rescue operations. “Cold Water Boot Camp” is an educational program (which can be presented in varying lengths of time) as developed to provide up-to-date information on cold-related human physiology, human factors, injury prevention, rescue and diagnosis and treatment in wilderness settings to medical and rescue responders.

Several cold-related myths will be debunked. For instance, of over 600 ‘professional rescue personnel’ surveyed, almost three quarters felt that a properly clothed adult can become hypothermic in ice water within 5-10 minutes rather than the correct value of at least 30 minutes (only 4% knew this). This is important because the poor understanding that hypothermia can occur quickly can lead to panic and fatal actions from both the victim and the responder.

The four phases of cold-water immersion will be reviewed. It is important for responders to have a firm understanding of the cold shock response, cold incapacitation, hypothermia, and rescue collapse.

Subsequent topics are relevant to both victims and responders. A major principle is that a victim has more survival time than one might think. Thus, victims can be trained to have less reason to panic, and responders can understand that they have more time to look at alternative extrication methods since it will take longer than expected for medical risk to occur. For victims of various cold-water incidents: the 1-10-1 Principle and the kick-and-pull self-rescue method from ice will be presented.

Several strategies will be presented for safe and effective rescue, extrication, and medical care in the wilderness. For responders: the “gentle-and-horizontal rescuer’s motto” and the principle that “the colder the patient is, the slower one can (should) go” will be presented. A “Cold Card” will be provided for each attendee. This waterproof card will be reviewed and provided for responders to assess the level of hypothermia of their patient, and then care for their patient. Contents include a diagnostic tool that considers the patient’s level of consciousness, physical movement, shivering intensity and alertness to determine if the patient is mildly, moderately, or severely hypothermic. Treatment procedures are described for each level. The back side of the card provides detailed instructions for the equipment required, and the procedure, for placing a cold patient in a hypothermia wrap (or Burrito) for protection from the cold environment, potentially for active rewarming, and for transport to medical facilities.
The session ends with practical demonstrations, preferably in an outdoor space. Demonstrations would include creating a hypothermia wrap with different levels of equipment. If the conference facility is near the river in Canmore, consideration could be given to demonstrating the cold shock response of a healthy young volunteer.


At the end of this session, participants will be able to:

  • Identify factors affecting the rate of core cooling in cold water
  • identify physiologic concerns related to safe extrication of a cold victim form cold water
  • identify the main signs and symptoms that can aid in determining the severity of hypothermia
  • identify the factors that could lead to rescue collapse of a cold patient in cold water
  • identify the safe procedures for care of a cold patient