A northwestern Ontario First Nation hopes to help pave the way for better first aid training in remote areas.

A new study in the Public Library of Science medical journal details how community members at Sachigo Lake First Nation learned how to handle health emergencies when hospital care is hundreds of kilometres away -- and there are no paramedics. 

"We're isolated here.  We don't have emergency centres that are ... readily available," said Jackson Beardy, the community's health director.

Some community members have taken standard first aid training in the past, but it wasn't helpful.

"The first aid courses that we've had were to basically hold a patient until the emergency help arrived," he said. "That's not possible in our area."

The study’s lead author Aaron Orkin worked with Beardy and Sachigo Lake volunteers to create the training they needed to help the community of 400 people.

"They need to know how to do immediate first response, which is what you'd learn in any first aid course," Orkin said.

"But they also need to know ... how to plan ahead for looking after somebody for hours or days."

Life-saving training

Orkin, who is an assistant professor at the Northern Ontario School of Medicine and a Toronto physician, said specialized first aid training could help remote communities across the country.

When it came to training first responders in Sachigo Lake, he first asked what they needed to know — then gave them five days of intense first aid training.

Beardy said that training may have already saved a life.

"There was a hunting party of four ... that was out on the land ... 40 kilometres north of here," he said.

"One of the individuals had a heart attack. And one of them had the training to know how to ... take care of the patient." 

The hunter cared for the heart attack victim all night, until it was light enough for a plane to reach them.

Beardy said situations like these happen in remote communities across the country.

That's why he plans to join other Aboriginal leaders in asking Health Canada to fund better first aid training.

Orkin said he hopes both provincial and federal levels of government will provide support.