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Farewell to MOFA

Posted by joeabbott on May 15, 2011

MOFAMountain Oriented First Aid – has been a part of my life since 1992. Or, it had been part of my life, but the organization for which I’d taught has closed their doors to this class, in a sense, and moved on. Last night I did the same.

I did some minor climbing in and around the Pacific Northwest almost since moving to the area in 1989. I credit a fella by the name of Dan Costello for introducing me to the sport. And while people still chuckle amusedly at the fact that a guy named Costello and I palled around (me surnamed Abbott) … reference this shtick if you need a primer … it was a reasonably short-lived and gently benign association that likely benefitted me more than I credit it.

Anyhow, the few outings (summiting Three Fingers, cragging at Leavenworth) whetted my taste for more, so I partook of a Boeing Alpine Society’s Basic Mountaineering course. I was on the 1992 Blue team, led by Jeff Stonebraker, Gareth Beale, and Pam Kaiser. That course was a formative experience for me and has shaped many years since then and will likely continue to echo through my days. It was more than the class, it was the people in it. And yet, I’m losing the point, aren’t I?

BoeAlpsMountaineers logoThe BoeAlps Society, as it was named, often took shots at the larger Mountaineers organization. The Mountaineers is a large organization which sponsors outings attended by dozens of people, and they attract folks from across the spectrum of competence … not unlike the BoeAlps, I’m sure. But the larger the group. the greater the chances for outliers or clusters of the clueless: those folks who just aren’t ready for the challenges mountaineering demands.

In a yearly write of up accidents in North American mountaineering … a slim volume titled, appropriately enough, Accidents in North American Mountaineering from the American Alpine Club… the Mountaineers will always have a story or two from their trips in which something went awry. First, as I mentioned, they’re a big organization with many opportunities for problems, and second, they were more structured so they demanded their members follow up on mishaps and do the diligent reports. And, finally, mountaineering is inherently a risk-taking sport; it’s dangerous in the hills!

amer_alpine_clubBut, in my youthful naiveté, it sure looked like the Mountaineers were a bunch of big, dumb, shouldn’t-be-out-there folks, who were a lot less capable than us BoeAlpers.

Then upon my graduation from the BoeAlps Basic class, I learned that the Mountaineers extracted an additional requirement from their students before graduating … something my course didn’t require: it was mandated that, to graduate from an equivalent Mountaineers course, they must take MOFA.

And so while we could giggle in our sleeves thinking “yeah, cause they need it!”, the logic of the mandate and common sense of it all struck me like a clap of thunder. I’m likely one of the more rash and careless folks you’ll see on a trail, but only because I have complete confidence in my abilities. And knowing I had no training for taking care of minor (much less major!) problems … well, something seemed wrong. How could I rationalize looking down on people who were being smarter than I was?

And so, not a couple months later, I enrolled in a MOFA training course.

Red-Cross1The MOFA course I took was spread out over 10 weeks, taking place after work on Tuesdays and Wednesdays between 6 and 10 PM. Upon graduation I received three cards (or certificates) representing my competence or certification in MOFA general skills, Red Cross First Aid Responder course completion, and Red Cross CPR/Rescue Breathing.

And I would have sworn I hadn’t learned a thing.

Perhaps it was stretching the class over 10 weeks; perhaps it was the tiny sampling of material in each session; perhaps the lack of tying the material together from session to session; or maybe I’m just not the brightest guy out there. Whatever it was, I could swear I didn’t know much more after graduating the class then I knew before that first session.

And so, in stark terror of being clueless, I made a rather bold move: I signed up for the instructor class. That is, I volunteered to teach the material to others.

This was a purely selfish move in that, to become an instructor, I’d have to go through the material yet again, would need to demonstrate flawless technique at bandaging and instruction, and would get a chance to see the material presented in subsequent classes (there were always many teachers instructing each class and so you would only need to teach a few topics each session).

So that same year I graduated my climbing class, I took the instructor course and passed in late Fall, sometime around November, I think. And I then took a teaching assignment the following February, 1993.

And that was it. I was an instructor, studied the material deeply, learned from other instructors, and over the next 17 years taught one or two classes a year. Each time I taught, I learned new tidbits about the material or how to teach it, honed my chops on bandaging, and altered the material as the Red Cross and Mountaineers (for whom I would be ultimately teaching) changed their curriculum.

In that time I came to teach with a core group of other instructors: I admired their dedication to the material, I respected their knowledge and technique, and our personalities meshed. In all, we became once-a-year friends: we would meet before class to say “hi” and dole out the teaching assignments, we’d go through the class together, and then give our hugs and see-ya-next-year waves when the course ended.

WRFAidnewcrestThen this past year, when the curriculum changed yet again, the Red Cross mandated re-certification under a different program (going away from MOFA and adopting WRFA … Wilderness and Remote First Aid), I completed the training but the Mountaineers failed to submit their request to sponsor their former MOFA instructors. It seems they decided to no longer manage and represent their own cadre of instructors and, instead, hire a different group to teach the Mountaineers’ students WRFA.

Wow. A bit of a bummer, but I’d been threatening for years to step away from the program and find a different way to “give back” to the mountains.

But it was last night that my former instructors gathered at Suzy and my home to have a “final” farewell MOFA meal, socialize, and make promises to “get together again next year”. Perhaps we will meet up in a year, or sooner. I hope so. Good people, all of them. Yet I consider last night the closing of that chapter on my life which I’d title “My MOFA Years”.

And, indeed, they were good years.


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