Why Refresher Courses Might Do More Than Brush Up Your First Aid

Why Refresher Courses Might Do More Than Brush Up Your First Aid

Like most English boys of my generation, I had plenty of opportunities to watch The Great Escape while growing up.

It seemed to be on the telly every bank holiday from 1970 onwards, and I must have seen it 20 times.

I found it a thrilling, heroic tale of overcoming adversity in WW2, and there are many memorable scenes.

One involving Steve McQueen has stuck in my memory – and no, it’s not his attempts to leap over border fences on a motorbike.

The scene I have in mind is where McQueen’s character recounts a story of how a man falls out of a window on the top storey of a skyscraper.

On the way down, as he passes the open windows, people hear him saying “So far, so good… so far, so good…”

It strikes me that this is a useful parable for Hostile Environment instructors.

On the 1st Option HET course we have some of the finest and most experienced practitioners of the conflict journalists’ art coming for ‘refreshment’.

The journalists we train are required to attend refresher courses every three years, and most are happy to have the opportunity to improve their first aid skills.

After all, unless you are frequently applying tourniquets, identifying sucking chest wounds and performing efficient secondary surveys, you can lose the knack.

And our delegates, even the most experienced, value to opportunity to practice all these things in a place where a mistake will not result in a friend’s death.

But there can be a tendency for this consensus to break down a little where the other side of the course – safety and security – is concerned.

There is, in truth, very little we can teach some of these journalists about this.

Some of our delegates have spent decades working in dangerous places, and their presence on the course can often be of more use to their fellow delegates – through the passing on of some of that accumulated wisdom – than it is to them.

However, in the four years I’ve been teaching with 1st Option, I have become a firm believer they benefit the experienced people too.

And what it boils down to is refresher courses get them to question the “so far, so good” way of thinking.

There is a human tendency to assume that the way we do things is the right way, particularly if we have been successful operating in that way.

But the world changes, and threats evolve all the time.

On our refresher courses we try to challenge assumptions, and get our delegates to have another look at the way they do things.

We are constantly changing our exercise scenarios to take account of the experiences of journalists working in wars and natural disasters.

The course provides a golden opportunity for delegates to share experiences, and learn from the mistakes and narrow escapes of colleagues from organisations right across the industry.

This can range from their choice of vehicles and drivers, through their drills for avoiding delays in checkpoints, to how they might react when coming under gunfire, or being mortared, or operating in places affected by mines.

For example we have heard first hand from journalists who have come close to falling victim to booby traps in Ukraine, in Iraq and in Syria.

And delegates have shared stories of kidnap and detention, passing on tips on how to deal with their captors, and how planning and preparation can help avoid these dangers.

In other words, a refresher course can “reset safety barometers’, and encourage delegates to think afresh about the way they work.

Because the ground might be approaching much quicker than you realise, and a re-examination of the way you operate in the field could just provide the parachute you need.

To find out more about our Hostile Environment Training, please click here.


Blog written by Patrick Howse. Follow Patrick on Twitter @Baghdaddi

Patrick is a former BBC journalist with 25 years experience of covering war zones and conflict areas. He is now a trainer on 1st Option’s Hostile Environment courses as well as a poet and writer.

Patrick will be reading extracts from his new book ‘Shadow Cast By Mountains’ at The Wheatsheaf in Soho on Monday 4th Dec at 19:00.



Paul Greeves