In an industry fraught with danger, first aid training is incredibly important, but it needn’t be boring. Forestry Journal caught up with Marcus Davies of Realism Training to learn more about his approach.

CHAINSAW kickback. Falls from height. Chain shot. Sudden branch drop. Forestry is rife with risk, the woods teeming with dangers that, in the blink of an eye, could cause serious injury or death. Despite this, first aid training is commonly viewed by contractors as a chore – a tedious box-ticking exercise that must be done so they can keep working, but hardly something worth taking much interest in. And what’s the reason for that? In the view of Marcus Davies of Realism Training, the fault lies with training providers themselves, who too often fail to tailor their courses to the needs of the forestry sector.

“Because they’re outdoor people, the last thing they want is to be stuck indoors in a classroom listening to a PowerPoint presentation for a whole day,” he said. “There are some fantastic trainers out there who are very hands-on, but there are too many companies who force you to sit in a dark room for a day and limit their forestry content to a few minutes at the end about Lyme disease. The whole course should be built around forestry. I want to put my clients through scenarios, designed around forestry and arb, that feel as real as I can possibly make them. If the scenario is a chainsaw cut, you will see a cut pumping blood to simulate arterial bleeding. I’ll go through up to four litres of blood every course I deliver.”

Forestry Journal: Marcus Davies.Marcus Davies.

A former outdoor instructor and community first responder with the ambulance service for 10 years, Marcus began teaching first aid courses around 15 years ago. He launched Realism Training in 2016, offering a range of practical courses including Emergency First Aid at Work +F (Forestry), suitable for anyone who works with trees.

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A mix of theory and practical tutorials with plenty of hands-on scenario-based incidents, the course is tailored to suit the needs of each client, ensuring each participant is learning skills and how to apply them in situations that are highly relevant to their own work.

Forestry Journal: Gushing wounds, spurting blood and running saws add to the realism.Gushing wounds, spurting blood and running saws add to the realism.

Marcus’s blood-spattered approach to first aid was inspired by his time in the military.

“I spent eight and a half years in the Army as an infantryman,” he said. “Whenever we were preparing to go to any kind of conflict, the training would be very realistic. So when I started delivering training, I wanted to be at the forefront of making it as real as possible, hence the name Realism Training.

“There is a lot of squaddie humour in the forestry industry. People say things like, ‘it’s just a scratch, I’ll finish the job first’, when their hand is hanging off, which suits my no-nonsense approach. But a catastrophic bleed is the same in the woods as it is on the battlefield. Whether it’s caused by shrapnel or a chainsaw, you’ll still need to put your fingers in the injured person’s wound to slow the bleeding while the trauma kit is getting sorted.

“Another similarity is remote working. Because of where contractors work, the emergency services and even helicopters will struggle to get there quickly. You’re waiting long periods for help to arrive so you have to be self-sufficient with life-saving first aid. That can be a lot to grasp on an 18-hour or 7.5-hour first aid course which you only do once every three years. Hence my course is straight to the point, no nonsense, no messing about. I won’t tell them all about how the heart works, but I will tell them what to do if it’s not working properly or stops working.”

Forestry Journal: Training focuses on the kind of injuries forestry contractors are most likely to sustain.Training focuses on the kind of injuries forestry contractors are most likely to sustain.

Delivering a practical course like this requires a lot of kit. In common with many first aid courses, Marcus utilises mannequins, trauma kits, defibrillators and PPE (as well as plenty of face masks and hand sanitiser over the last year), but also casualty simulation injuries, crushed hands, fake limbs, large cuts, chainsaws and lots and lots of fake blood.

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“I want clients to understand the reality of a catastrophic bleed,” he said. “When an artery goes, it’s like a hydraulic hose on a machine. A hose pumps until it’s empty or you turn the machine off. But you can’t turn the heart off. It will just keep pumping. If you put pressure on a large arterial bleed, you’ll slow it down, but you won’t stop it. You have to apply tourniquets or haemostatic dressings, otherwise you’re going to leak out and die.

Forestry Journal: Participants learn essential skills so they can stop arterial bleeding and save lives.Participants learn essential skills so they can stop arterial bleeding and save lives.

“In the UK, on average, 16,000 people will die through trauma to their body. Out of that 16,000, 40 per cent will die through leaking out their bodies. You hear all the time about close calls people have had where a cut, if it had been a couple of millimetres over, would have hit their artery and they’d have died. Unfortunately, sometimes it does hit the artery and they start leaking.”

Doing the work he does, travelling all over the UK and further afield if asked, Marcus hears plenty of stories from across the industry of on-the-job injuries and near misses. On every course someone will have a scar to show off or a tale to tell – something he encourages for the benefit of the younger people in the room. Sometimes these stories will inspire future scenarios for Marcus to simulate. His scenarios usually feature a range of injuries and can be adapted for specific clients and locations.

He said: “If I turn up at a course and somebody wants to practise a scenario where a log has crushed a hand, I can produce a fake hand with the fingers all hanging off. I do lots of chainsaw injuries to the chest, the arm, the back of the leg, to feet. I can do a snapped leg, as if an operator’s landed badly when jumping out of a machine. Managing someone who has a potential spinal injury is so important. I do amputations. I carry so much kit, and I don’t mind it getting muddy, bloody or anything like that. It’s part of my job to make these incidents as realistic and hands-on as physically possible.

Forestry Journal: Trauma kits containing all the essentials can be purchased from Realism Training.Trauma kits containing all the essentials can be purchased from Realism Training.

“It needs to be memorable so that, if something ever did happen to someone who’d been on the course, their brain will go through the archives and recall what they need to do to take care of themselves. That’s the whole point of the practical stuff. The industry is made up of hands-on people and they learn from a hands-on approach.”

Marcus knows this to be true. Recalling a recent communication from an experienced tree surgeon after he had been on the course, he said: “I mentioned that if you ever have a bang to the head and you’re not feeling right, get on the floor before you fall on the floor. You never want to land on your back, because if you lose consciousness you can choke on your tongue or start vomiting and it’s game over. Even if you’ve got to make a call to emergency services, get on the ground first and make sure you’re on your front when you do it. And keep warm, because the ground is sucking the heat out of you.

READ MORE: Sarah Yeaman: Setting a good example

“Some weeks after I gave this talk, the guy phoned me and said he’d had a branch come down on him. He broke his back in four places, punctured a lung and broke nine ribs. He lands on the floor, instantly gets up and knows something’s really, really bad. So he tells himself to get on the floor on his front – everything he was taught a few weeks before – and he ends up losing consciousness. His mate grabs this blanket I’d sold him, wraps him in it and he waits there 40 minutes, on the freezing ground, for the ambulance to arrive.

“I get messages like that every once in a while. That’s why I don’t cut corners, because when people leave the course, I need to be confident they can handle a situation if it comes up.”

Forestry Journal: Marcus’ kit pictured before a course (judging by how clean it is).Marcus’ kit pictured before a course (judging by how clean it is).

For this same reason, Marcus makes a guarantee that all Realism Training courses will be delivered by him alone.

“I don’t want to compromise,” he said. “My courses are so full on, I don’t think I could expect somebody else to put in the energy and dedication I do. I’ve only got 7.5 hours and a hell of a lot to get through, so I am relentless, but I don’t want to rush through it for the participants. If somebody wasn’t as passionate as I am, I don’t think they could do it. Also, I couldn’t expect somebody else to take all that kit home covered in blood and muck and spend most of the next day cleaning all the kit down, their partner giving them a hard time because they can’t get all the blood out of the washing machine… It wouldn’t be fair.”

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