Category Archives: Field Safety

STARS Emergency Link Center

STARS Air Ambulance

June, 2011

The STARS Air Ambulance is now in three western provinces, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba.  The Alberta STARS helicopter bases are located in Calgary, Edmonton and Grande Prairie and can services almost all areas of Alberta and some areas of north eastern British Columbia. Saskatchewan has two STARS bases; one in Regina and the other Saskatoon.  The Manitoba base for STARS is in Winnipeg.  Click to view STARS Coverage Area.  Please be aware that STARS will only provide their full service [communication and transport] in their Coverage Area.  Once you are outside of their service area, STARS provides only communication.  STARS will host your call and put you in contact with the appropriate medical provider for the area you are working in as long as your Research Area is in Canada.)  See below for research area’s outside of Canada.*        

For University Researchers, this means that when you make a phone call to STARS you have activated an important link in the Chain of Survival.  This one-call activation saves valuable time if someone is seriously injured in the field.  However, researchers must remember that STARS is not a replacement for local 9-1-1 services.  Activate STARS only if you have a serious medical emergency. 

If you have a remote research site of multiple day occupation you should register your site with STARS.  Registering the site allows STARS to locate you faster and know important information about who is at this site and the level of medical training available at the site.  Please click on their link to view what information they will need to register your site.   Use the phone that you have in the field to contract them so you cans see if their numbers will work with your Satellite phone:  (1-888-888-4567) or cellular:  (4567).  If the cellular phone number does not work with your Satellite phone, then use the STARS alternate phone number (1-403-299-0932).  (All researchers need to know that some SAT phones will not dial out to 9-1-1 or to a 1-800-number.  Therefore, when you are planning your field research you must know your equipment, know the alternate phone numbers for emergency dispatch in the area you are working in and develop an Emergency Response Plan that includes and prominently displays this information.)

*Research Area’s Outside of Canada:

STARS does not have emergency dispatch or medical facility information readily available for areas outside of Canada. STARS cannot support you with any other service except to host a call using phone numbers which you must provide. You must do the research and located the Emergency Response Phone numbers that STARS will need to contact in the event of a medical emergency. 

 Visit the University of Alberta Field Research Office for information regarding STARS. 

 For more information, please visit the STARS website.

P­oison Ivy, Poison Oak & Poison Sumac

Poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac grow almost everywhere in the United States, except Hawaii, Alaska, and some desert areas in the Western U.S. Poison ivy usually grows east of the Rocky Mountains and in Canada. Poison oak grows in the Western Uni­ted States, Canada, Mexico (western poison oak), and in the Southeastern states (eastern poison oak). Poison sumac grows in the Eastern states and southern Canada.

A Plant Induced Rash:

A plant induced rash is an allergic contact dermatitis caused by contact with oil called urushiol. Urushiol is found in the sap of the poisonous plants like poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac. It is a colourless or pale yellow oil that oozes from any cut or crushed part of the plant. Once exposure to air, urushiol turns brownish-black in colour. Damaged leaves look like they have spots of black enamel thus making it easier to recognize and identify the plant. Contact with urushiol can occur in three ways:

  • Direct contact – by touching the sap of the toxic plant.
  • Indirect contact – by touching something on which urushiol is present. This oil can stick to the fur of animals, to garden tools, sports equipment, or to any objects that may have come into contact with it.
  • Airborne contact – by burning the poison plants. This will release the urushiol particles into the air.

When urushiol gets on the skin, it will begin to penetrate in minutes. A reaction appears, usually within 12 to 48 hours. There is severe itching, redness, and swelling, followed by blisters. This rash is often arranged in streaks or lines where the person brushed against the plant. In a few days, the blisters will become crusted and take 10 days or longer to heal. Poison plant dermatitis can affect any part of the body. The rash does not spread by touching it, although it may seem to when it breaks out in new areas. This may happen because the urushiol absorbs more slowly into skin that is thicker, skin such as on the forearms, legs, and trunk.

Is everyone sensitive to this chemical?

Sensitivity may develop after the first direct skin contact with urushiol oil. An allergic reaction seldom occurs on the first exposure. A second encounter may produce a reaction which can be severe. About 85 percent of the population will develop an allergic reaction when exposed to poison ivy. The sensitivity will vary from person to person. For people who reach adulthood without becoming sensitive, they will then have only a 50 percent chance of developing an allergy to poison ivy. However, only about 15 percent of the population seems to be resistant.

Sensitivity to poison ivy tends to decline with age. Children who have reacted to poison ivy will probably find that their sensitivity decreases by young adulthood without repeated exposure. People who were once allergic to poison ivy may even lose their sensitivity later in life.

Recognizing Poison Ivy, Poison Oak and Poison Sumac:

Identifying the poison ivy plant is the first step to avoid the rash. The popular saying leaves of three, beware of me is a good rule of thumb for poison ivy and poison oak but is only partly correct. A more exact saying would be leaflets of three, beware of me, because each for poison ivy and poison oak each leaf has three leaflets. Poison sumac has a row of paired leaves. The middle or end leaf is on a longer stalk than the other two or more leaves.

Unfortunately, Poison Ivy has different forms. It grows as vines or low shrubs. Poison oak, with its oak-like leaves, is a low shrub in the East and can be a low shrub or a high shrub in the West. Poison sumac can be a tall shrub or a small tree. The plants also differ in where they grow. Poison ivy tends to grow in fertile, well-drained soil. Western poison oak requires a great deal of water, and Eastern poison oak prefers sandy soil and will sometimes grow near lakes. Poison sumac tends to grow in standing water, for example; peat bogs.

These plants are most common in the spring and summer. When they grow, there is plenty of sap and these plants will bruise easily. The leaves may have black marks where they have been bruised. Although poison ivy rash is usually a summer complaint, cases may occur in winter when people burn wood to clear yards that has urushiol on it, or cut poison ivy vines for wreaths.

It is important to recognize these toxic plants in all seasons. In the early fall, their leaves can turn colors such as yellow or red while other plants are still green. The berry-like fruit on the mature female plants will also change color in the fall; from green to off-white. In the winter, the plants will lose their leaves. And in the spring, poison ivy has yellow-green flowers.

Prevention of Poison Rashes:

Prevent the misery of a poison rash by looking out for the poison plants and staying away from them. You can destroy these weeds with herbicides in your own backyard, but this will not be practical when you are working in the field. If you are going to be in areas where you know these poison plants will likely be growing, wear long pants, long sleeves, boots, and gloves. Remember that the plant s oil, urushiol, will stick to almost all surfaces, and it does not dry. Therefore, do not let pets run through wooded areas since they may carry home the urushiol on their fur. Since urushiol can travel in the wind if the plants are burned in a fire, do not burn plants that look like poison ivy, poison oak or poison sumac.

Barrier skin creams such as a lotion containing bentoquatum offer some protection before contact with poison ivy, poison oak, or poison sumac. Over-the-counter products prevent urushiol from penetrating the skin. Ask your doctor or pharmacist for details.


If you think you ve had a brush with poison ivy, poison oak, or poison sumac, follow these simple steps:

  • Wash all exposed areas with cold running water as soon as you can reach a stream, lake, or garden hose. If you can do this within five minutes, the water may keep the urushiol from contacting your skin and spreading to other parts of your body. Within the first 30 minutes after coming into contact, soap and water are helpful to eliminate or reduce the rash.
  • Wash your clothing in a washing machine with detergent. If you bring the clothes into your house, be careful that you do not transfer the urushiol to rugs or furniture. You may also dry clean contaminated clothes. Because urushiol can remain active for months, wash all camping, sporting, fishing, or hunting gear that was in contact with the oil.
  • Relieve the itching of mild rashes by taking cool showers and applying over-the-counter preparations like calamine lotion or Burrow s solution. Soaking in a lukewarm bath with an oatmeal or baking soda solution may also ease itching and dry oozing blisters. Over-the-counter hydrocortisone creams are not strong enough to have much effect on poison ivy rashes.

Prescription cortisone can halt the reaction if used early. If you know you have been exposed and developed severe reactions in the past, consult a dermatologist or doctor. They may prescribe cortisone or other meds that prevent blisters from forming. If you use a cortisone treatment you must use the cortisone for longer than six days or the rash may return.

The Plants – Learn to Recognize Them:

As you can see from the pictures below, a plant induced rash could ruin your field work for the entire field season. Learn to recognize these plants so that you can avoid them!

Poison Oak (Above)

For more information on poisonous plants, please go to the following site:

All images are reprinted with permission from Jones & Bartlett Publishers,
Wilderness First Aid: Emergency Care for Remote Locations, 1998

Giant Hogweed

The Giant Hogweed is a member of the Apiaceae family and is native to Central Asia. Giant Hogweed was originally introduced to North America as an ornamental plant; however in some parts of North America thi­s plant has escaped cultivation. Giant Hogweed is a highly competitive plant that substantially reduces the amount of suitable habitat available for native plants and wildlife. This plant is now restricted in all provinces across Canada. Researchers need to know what this plant looks like and how to identify Giant Hogweed when they are working in the field.

Giant Hogweed has been confirmed in British Columbia, Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Labrador. Giant Hogweed is suspected in the Yukon. It is not present (yet), in Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, PEI, North West Territories, and Nunavut.

In Alberta, as with many other provinces, Giant Hogweed is being confused with its smaller and less toxic cousin – Cow Parsnip.

Below are two links to information about Giant Hogweed. Where ever Giant Hogweed is identified, it should be reported to local authorities so it can be removed before it begins to spread.

Giant Hogweed in Ottawa


Human Health issues of Giant Hogweed:

Giant Hogweed is a dangerous. plant. The sap from all parts of the Giant Hogweed causes a phytophotodermatitis affect  when the sap gets onto your skin. At first the skin will turn red and become itchy: then once the skin is exposed to sunlight or UV rays the sap will cause deep blisters. These blisters can form black or purplish scars that can last for several years. Even a tiny amount of the sap in the eyes can cause temporary to permanent blindness.

Because of the significant Human Health Risk researchers should be aware of this plant and how to recognize it. Below are some useful sites on what the plant looks like and how to recognize the giant hogweed plant from other plants that appear similar:


Pictures of Giant Hogweed plants

The next link shows how the BC government is trying to control the spread of Giant Hogweed in the Lower Mainland areas. This site is useful in that you will need suitable safety gear to protect yourself if you attempt to remove this plant.
Workplace BC:   Toxic Plant

Toxic Plant Warnings

Severe Skin Damage from Giant Hogweed (Heracleum Mantegazzianum)

If you should come into contact with the sap from a Giant Hogweed plant, below is a link with information regarding the medical treatment.
Giant Hogweed First Aid treatment

To summarize, field researchers need to know what the Giant Hogweed plant looks like and take measures to not come into contact with this plant. The Giant Hogweed plant is found in many provinces and in many States. The Giant Hogweed plant has also been relocated to many other countries so researchers can expect to find this plant worldwide.




Hypothermia is a very real and potentially deadly condition if not recognized and treated promptly.

  • Hypothermia occurs when the body loses more “core” heat than it can produce and retain.
  • An uninsulated h­uman body losses most heat from the head, neck and chest [especially sides and armpits] and to a lesser degree the groin.
  • Hypothermia can occur at any time during the year, winter or summer and is not restricted to cold weather. Hypothermia can occur at temperature of 10 C or less.
  • As the body cools, your ability to generate heat is reduced because a colder body doesn’t generate as much heat as a warmer body. Shivering stops, the body cools further and eventually the victim’s heart fails. [Wang]
  • Untreated, the condition will progress to where there is decreased level of consciousness, body functions gradually cease and death will result.


  • Shivering
  • Confusion
  • Hallucinations
  • Behavioral changes
  • Numbness of hands and feet
  • Followed by unconsciousness


  • A severely hypothermic patient must be handled very gently.
  • Cover the patient well.
  • It is especially important to cover/insulate the patient from the ground, as significant heat loss will occur through conduction (heat transfer from a warm body to a cold surface). If a spinal injury is suspected, a “body role” can be used (with proper assistance) to place blankets under the patient.
  • Constantly talk to and reassure the patient.
  • If having to remain in one place for an extended period of time awaiting assistance, a fire for warmth should be considered.
  • Fires should be strategically placed to warm both the patient and the responder(s), but remember that your patient may have lost some feeling or may be in a decreased level of consciousness, and may not be able to communicate well. Consequently you must be alert to the condition of your patient and that they are not too hot or burned by the fire’s radiant heat.


Heat Stress / Fever vs. Hyperthermia


  • Elevation of body temp due to the “resetting” of the hypothalamic set poin­t in response to endogenous or exogenous pyroxenes


  • Elevation of body temp above the hypothalamic set point due to the failure of the body’s heat dispersing mechanisms

Physiologic Response to Heat

Hypothalamus signals for:

  • Sweat production which causes evaporative heat loss
  • Peripheral vasodilatation which causes increased skin blood flow
    • this results in the removal of heat from core through convective heat loss

Heat exhaustion vs. Heat stroke

  • Important to think of heat exhaustion and heat stroke as two ends of a spectrum
  • The point at which heat exhaustion becomes heat stroke – when thermoregulatory mechanisms fail or are overwhelmed
  • Heat exhaustion can easily progress to heat stroke if not adequately treated
  • Thus early recognition and treatment essential!

Heat exhaustion

  • Two types classically described
  • Water depletion
  • Salt depletion

Water depletion heat exhaustion

  • Occurs in patients who do not drink enough fluids when exposed to heat stress
  • Salt depletion heat exhaustion
  • Occurs in patients who have sweated profusely in response to heat stress
  • These patients have attempted to hydrate themselves with water, but did not compensate for the salt lost in their sweat

Heat exhaustion-diagnosis

  • Very nonspecific symptoms
  • Dizziness, lightheadedness, headache
  • Nausea, vomiting, weakness, malaise
  • Mild disorientation, clumsiness

Heat Stroke

  • Total breakdown of body’s thermoregulatory system
  • Leads to multi-organ damage if left untreated
  • A true medical emergency
  • 2 forms described
  • Exertional
  • Non-exertional/Classical

Exertional Heat Stroke

  • History of increased endogenous heat production eg. Strenuous exercise
  • Heat dispersing mechanisms are intact but overwhelmed by the heat stress
  • Athletes, military personnel, miners & other labourers are at risk

Classical Heat Stroke

  • History of increased exogenous heat gain (eg. hot day with no air conditioning) combined with decreased heat dispersing ability (eg. history of cardiac disease)

Initial management for both Exertional and Classical heat stroke


  • The key to successful outcome in heat stroke
  • Prognosis in heat stroke is directly related to how quickly the body can be cooled down
  • Slowly cool – Goal is to cool by 0.1-0.2 degrees/min

In the field …

  • Move the patient to a cool, shady environment
  • Remove clothes
  • Keep the patient wet
  • Ice packs
  • During transport –> open windows
  • Immersion
  • Evaporation

Evaporative Cooling

  • Fans positioned beside an undressed patient while warm water is sprayed/sponged on
  • Patient kept continually wet for continued cooling
  • Can achieve cooling rates comparable to immersive techniques
  • For all methods, cooling should be discontinued when temp hits 39-40 degrees
  • The ABC’s…
  • Airway, Breathing
  • Cooling
  • Evaporative/Immersive +/- adjuncts
  • Circulation
  • Cautious rehydration


  • Altered mental state + hyperthermia = heat stroke until proven otherwise
  • ABC’s = Airway, Breathing, Cooling
  • Think of heat exhaustion and heat stroke as ends of a spectrum
  • Important to recognize heat exhaustion early – can easily turn into heat stroke!


  • Rosen’s 5th edition, pages 1997-2009
  • Tintinalli’s 5th edition, pages 1235-1242
  • Khosla et al, “Heat-Related Illnesses”, Critical Care Clinics, 15(2), 251-263
  • Tek et al, “Heat Illness”, Emergency Medicine Clinics of North America, 10(2), 299-309
  • Wexler, Randall K, “Evaluation and Treatment of Heat-Related Illnesses”, American Family Physician, 65(11), 2307-2313

Links for more information on Hyperthermic Conditions: 

WCB of BC:  additional information

NIOSH – National Institute of Occupational Safety & Health:

Helicopter Safety

This is a very brief overview of safety tips picked up from reading helicopter safety informa­tion. If you are going to be involved in a helicopter mission you must do further research. The links below contain useful information regarding helicopter usage/safety.

Helicopters are exciting and dangerous:

  • keep your head [figuratively and literally]
  • pay close attention to the pilots’ pre-flight briefing
  • outside of North America ensure there is a pilots’ pre-flight briefing

If the rotors are turning or about to turn

  • you should always approach in the pilots’ visual field [front]
  • approach a helicopter walking uphill or crouching if on the level
  • never approach a helicopter from above [main rotor]
  • never approach a helicopter from the rear [tail rotor]
  • hold onto all light weight items as they could be blown away
  • if an item does get blown away do not chase it – it’s not worth your life unless you have been specifically designated as a helper

You are cargo – do what you are told:
keep your head down your mouth shut and keep your hands to yourself

Helicopter links



The Department of Earth & Atmospheric Science is a field research intense depart­ment and many of our Researchers and Students have a need for carrying non-restricted firearms in the field.

All University personnel, when on university business, must comply with the Government of Canada; Firearm Act, (1995), and the University’s Firearms Policy, Firearms Maintenance Procedure, Firearms Issuance/Approval Procedures, Firearms & Ammunition Procedure and Firearms Incident Reporting Procedure, May 31, 2004. You must familiarize yourself with the U of A policies BEFORE considering the purchase or usage of a firearm before/while conducting research in the field.

Highlights of University Policies:

  • The policies apply to University owned and Personal firearms used for University business.
  • Approval by the Chair/Dean/Director of Protective Services is required for the acquisition/disposal and use of firearms
  • Ammunition consistent with the type of firearm must be purchased; no hand-loaded ammunition may be used.
  • Unspent ammunition must be given to Protective Services for storage, etc.
  • An incident report must be filed with Protective Services whenever the firearm has been discharged, lost or stolen or when firearm safety procedure has been violated
  • All firearms purchased from University funds or Grants held by Researchers must be stored at Protective Services.  You are responsible to understand the concepts of the University’s Policies and Procedures and to comply.

The following web-links are provided:

University of Alberta – Policies and Procedures Online:


Possession & Acquisition Licence (PAL Licence)

If you need to carry a firearm when you are out in the field, you will need to get your Possessions & Acquisition Licence or PAL licence. You will need to take a course from a certified Firearms Instructor. The course and the application for the PAL Licence must be done well in advance of field season. In order to get a firearms licence, the police will run a background and securities check on you; this can take up to 6 months. Therefore, if you are intending on doing field research next summer, take a PAL course in the fall.

There are several places in Edmonton you can go to take such a course.

The Alberta Hunter Education Instructor’s Association; Edmonton Conservation Education Centre for Excellence offers both the Non-Restricted and Restricted courses.  They are located at #88, 4003-98 St. Edmonton, AB.   Phone:  (780) 466-6682.  Please check their website for available courses:

Phoenix Gun Club: phone number 780-466-0307, 4706-76 Avenue, Edmonton. The Gun Club offers both the non-restricted and restricted weapons courses- on separate weekends. You will need to contact the Phoenix Gun Club yourself to see when they are offering PAL courses.

Foreign students are advised to take the PAL course and apply for the licence in the fall before field season. A background check, which can take up to 6 months for Canadian Citizens, is often much longer if you are a non-Canadian.

Cellular Phones Outside of Major Centers

When you are working outside of a major center, such as Edmonton, Calgary or Vancouver – your cell phone may not help you in reaching emergency assistance as it would when you are in a major city. Many, but not all,  rural areas have the 911 emergency phone numbers in place – but some locations do not. You must check the area you will be working in to see what the local emergency phone numbers are.

IF the area you are working in has a local 911 system and you call using your cell phone  you may be linked to the local emergency centre. However, if your provider is located in Edmonton, the call may be routed to the Edmonton EMS services.


IF the area you are working in does not have the 911 system and you dial 911 using a cellular phone, you will be routed to a toll operator who will transfer the call to the appropriate local emergency department. The toll operator may be an operator in the nearest major city or they may be an operator from your cell phone’s home-base. (e.g. Edmonton.) This can use up valuable time in the event of an emergency.


You need to check with your mobile provider and ask how 911 calls are routed when you use your cell phone outside of major centers.

You need to know the direct phone number of the local emergency department when you are working in the field if the local area does not use the 911 system.

You need to check as to whether the area you are working in has the 911 system or not.

You are advised to click on the following link which will take you to the information regarding the Star’s Emergency Link Centre if you are working in the field. Be familiar with how they operate and how to reach them in the event of an emergency. Stars can be reached using a cell phone and your call will not be rerouted.

The Stars Air Ambulance Phone number is:   1-888-888-4567 or #4567 (cellular)

visit our Stars Emergency Link Centre