Answers to frequently asked questions

How can I join the Black Cross Health Collective?

We're a small group of friends and are not looking to significantly expand our group beyond its present membership. But there are several things you can do if you want to provide health care and first aid.

Start your own collective. We love to help other people form their own collectives. If you live in Portland, please feel free to contact us and we can try to put you in touch with other folks trying to start groups. If you live outside Portland, we may know other folks in your town or nearby with similar interests. If you live in the Portland area, well put you on our mailing list. You'll find out about upcoming protests, trainings, and other events. That way we get to know you a bit and we'll see where things go from there. Get yourself trained. Attend a training hosted by a reputable first aid group: Medicine for Activists Seeking Health and Healing (MASHH), Northeast Action Medics Association (NEAMA), Colorado Street Medics, Boston Area Liberation Medics (BALM), or The Black Cross Health Collective. Take a wilderness first responder course (see below).

What are these other groups called "black cross"?

There are no other chapters of the Black Cross Health Collective because we are an affinity group based in Portland, Oregon. There are other organizations that call themselves "black cross" this or that, but this is coincidence. We have no connection with them. Some of them are anarchist organizations and others do work with prisoners. The name "black cross" has been around since the middle ages and has been used by all sorts of groups.

I do not have lots of first aid training but I have been to some protests. Your next training isn't for a while and I want to help now. What can I do?

Thanks for wanting to help. You can be most useful by doing several things.

Read all the information on the black cross web site. Start coming to any protest that you see announced. Bring a buddy who will watch your back. He/she needs no first aid training, just a cool head. Bring water, l.a.w. (liquid antacid (Maalox) and water), whatever other few first aid things you want to, and a cool head. Do not identify yourself as a medic. If people get hurt, tell them who you are, what kind of training you have, if any, and that you want to help. If they give you consent, you can help them. Only treat people within the limits of your training. Don't try to do anything you don't know how to do. If you are at all unsure about what to do, get help. Do no harm! If you see other medics, introduce yourself, and then help out where you can. People will get to know you this way. If you're in Portland, some of those medics will be part of Black Cross Health Collective, and some won't.

What's a wilderness first responder (wfr)?

Wilderness first aid, especially wilderness first responder training, is our favored first aid training for two reasons.

Short of E.M.T. certification, it is the only rigorous first aid training outside the military. There are many opportunities to practice your skills in a realistic scenario environment. The course is about 100 hours long and takes about 9 days. It stresses patient assessment, calm decision-making, and improvisation, three essential skills for action medics.

There are times when the police prevent paramedics from picking up patients during protests by declaring an area "unsafe" or "unsecured." This means that if you have a seriously injured or ill patient, he might be more than an hour from definitive care, even if you are in the middle of a bustling city. And that is the definition of wilderness care.

The disadvantage of the wfr course is that is requires a substantial investment of both time and money, putting it beyond the reach of some people.

If you have the time and money, consider a month long wilderness emergency medical technician (wemt) course.

Where can I take a wfr or wemt course?

Wilderness Medicine Institute (part of NOLS), Wilderness Medicine Associates and SOLO all offer excellent wfr training throughout the U.S. They have websites with course dates and locations. These three outfits will re-certify each other's graduates but do not re-certify other school's graduates. We also recommend First Lead with whom a number of medics have trained. MASHH will most likely be offering another wfr course for environmental and social justice activists during 2004-05 somewhere in the West. Contact them for information.

I can't seem to find a website for MASHH. How do I contact them?

Send email to mashh at

We will also happily forward email to them.


So I need some kind of certification to be an action medic?

Although it's important to get the best training you can, a calm person with little training is much more useful than a panicked emt. While we will gladly train individuals and other groups across the continent and beyond, we do not give certifications in first aid. The burden of determining someone's qualifications, as always, is on those who work with her or him. This is why we encourage the formation of affinity groups and collectives which provide a level of support and demand a level of competency.
Why do medics always seem to be working in pairs?

We train medics to work with buddies. This buddy does not have to be a medic herself. In fact, you use your personnel resources better when your buddy isn't a medic but rather a person the medic trusts, who has worked in the streets before, and has a calm head on her shoulders. You may want to integrate some non-healing buddies into your group, either as actual members, as social members, or as part of a larger group of allies and support network.

I want to start a similar group in my own town, city, or country... can we be a chapter of the Black Cross Health Collective?

Thats great! But please don't start a chapter of our group. Instead start your own first aid and health care collective. Come up with an original name that doesn't include the words "black cross." Ask for help from other first aid affinity groups.
If we want to form a new first aid affinity group, who should be in it?

If you want to form an affinity group, then choose members who have an affinity for one another. The members should be able to get along. This work is stressful and medics need to give each other some slack and be able to be snippy now and then and have it not be a problem. You will be each other's primary support. But balance people's ability to get along with diversity.
What skills should the members of a first aid affinity group have?

Choose members with diverse healing skills. There are lots of kinds of care that we provide and different strategies have different applications. Action medics include nurse practitioners, RNs, herbalists, wilderness first responders, witches, and traditional healers. Respect one another's fields. The herbalists and nurses will understand that wilderness first aid probably encompasses the most useful skills for someone with arterial bleeding. Everyone recognizes that nurse practitioners have excellent patient assessment skills. Try to integrate herbal and traditional healing practices into all of your care because these practices heal people in ways that modern medicine doesn't. Also think about bringing on board people with non-healing skills. A member who can handle logistics, planning, and communications is invaluable. A computer savvy member doesn't hurt either.

Okay, so we've formed a group. What do we do now?

Get yourselves trained and then immediately begin training people in what you know. We can provide you with lots of teaching and curriculum support. Medics can't possibly cover an entire demonstration so we have to train people to treat each other's minor injuries.

Help other groups get started. Even if they don't do medic work, they will provide support when you need it. Help other individuals and groups network together. Introduce people via email and at events where they've gathered.

Host parties for interested people and get to know them.

Get an email address so people can contact you. That will help your group stay connected to your community, and to other medic communities throughout the world.

Demand that medics be an integral part of event planning and that they be brought in at the beginning stages. Health care is not an afterthought, it should permeate all we do, before, during, and after political action. You'll notice that medics tend to be the best organized groups at demos.
I want to host a medic training. What do I do?

You can write to us to find out if there are people in your area who do good first aid trainings. If there aren't, or if you are in the Northwest, we may be able to train you and your group. Read our training questionnaire, and then email back your answers to our questions and well go from there.

What do you teach in your training?

Check out our trainings page and downloads page.

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