Those interested in learning more about the reality of responding to emergencies in wilderness situations have an exciting opportunity.

The 2018 Wilderness EMS Film Series will debut at 7 p.m. today in Room 163 at the Foothills Higher Education Center in Morganton. Dr. Seth Hawkins, medical director of the Burke County EMS and the North Carolina State Park System, medical course director of Western Piedmont Community College and creator of the award-winning Carolina Wilderness EMS Externship, is sponsoring the series through his company, Hawk Ventures.

Hawkins will screen the movie, “The Edge,” which illustrates the struggle for survival of two men stranded in the Alaskan wilderness, for free to visitors. “Bottomless” popcorn and Cheerwine will be provided. 

The screening is one of four that will take place through Tuesday, Sept. 11. Hawkins has arranged for expert EMS speakers to lead a roundtable discussion following each screening to answer attendees’ questions and give them a more realistic picture of what it takes to treat people who have sustained injuries in remote and often dangerous locations. 

“We’ve come to realize that many people get their information about wilderness medicine, wilderness rescue and EMS (both wilderness and traditional) from movies,” Hawkins said. “While some of that information is legitimate, much is dramatized or flat-out wrong. This is fine, since its purpose is entertainment. We saw an opportunity, though, not only to entertain, but also to educate. So we show popular Hollywood movies and use them as a platform for more educational roundtables that follow about what was realistic, what was imaginary and what experts would recommend good teaching points might be from the movies.” 

He began offering the annual film series in 2012.

“Our movies have ranged from the awesomely outrageous, such as ‘Snakes on a Plane’ in 2017 and ‘Vertical Limit’ in 2012 and 2014, to the hyper-realistic ‘Touching the Void’ in 2015 and ‘127 Hours’ in 2012 and 2014,” Hawkins said. 

He intends the movies to serve as a teaching tool for those participating in the Carolina Wilderness EMS Externship, which was described in a previous News Herald article as “a month-long rotation for four-year medical students and resident physicians that combines the resources of a rural/wilderness EMS system, a local community college, a community hospital system and a major research university (Wake Forest University, where Hawkins teaches emergency medicine).”

“Usually, our movie choices roughly follow the clinical topic of that year’s Externship,” Hawkins said. “This year, our clinical topic is psychological first aid and stress injuries. Two of our movies — ‘United 93’ and ‘Bringing Out the Dead’ — specifically address that. The roundtable after ‘Bringing Out the Dead’ will focus heavily on stress injuries in emergency responders and how to reduce them. The roundtable after ‘United 93’ will focus on community level (local, state, national) crises and how to manage and reduce the emotional injuries they can cause. Both these would be highly educational and useful for the general public, I’m sure.” 

Hawkins is partnering with several colleagues well-versed in emergency medicine to provide their input and expertise to the presentations. 

“For these two movies ('United 93’ and ‘Bringing Out the Dead’), we hope to have a local Hickory-based expert, Brenton Queen, MS, LMFT, LCAS and executive coach in person, and an international Boulder, Colorado-based expert, Laura McGladrey, RN, FNP, WEMT, FAWM, joining us by Skype. The other two movies will be more fun in orientation, but should be equally educational. All four movies will include expert analysis and roundtable participation from the two 2018 externs and me.” 

The 2018 Carolina Wilderness EMS externs are Dr. Mike Brisson, MSIV, PhD, and Hannah Loewenberg, MSIV, WEMR, SRT. 

Brisson was a flight paramedic in the U.S. Army who served in combat deployment in Operation Enduring Freedom and is currently a fourth-year medical student at Edward Via College of Osteopathic Medicine in Auburn, Illinois. 

Loewenberg is a fourth-year medical student at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center and is a certified Wilderness Emergency Medical Responder, Swift-water Rescue Technician and an American Canoe Association Kayak Instructor.

In addition to his other positions, Hawkins also is the team chief of Appalachian Mountain Rescue. 

The schedule for the three additional screenings is as follows:

» Wednesday, Aug. 29: “Bringing out the Dead”

» Thursday, Sept. 6: “The River Wild”

» Tuesday, Sept. 11: “United 93”

All of the screenings are free and will take place at 7 p.m. in Room 163 at the Foothills Higher Education Center.

Hawkins encouraged people to come to the screenings to learn more about wilderness medicine.

“These evenings bring together three great activities: community socializing, watching movies and learning important life skills and actionable information from true experts in the field,” he said. “We hope the greater Burke County community takes advantage of these experts among us for this month.”


Staff Writer Tammie Gercken can be reached at


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