What is a Wilderness First Responder?

I first became a wilderness first responder in January 2013. I took an eighty-hour course at the start of the second term of my Outdoor Adventure Naturalist program.

I’ve recertified every two years since then to stay current on what’s happening in wilderness medicine. I also connect with other professionals in the field to listen to what scenarios they run into and how they manage them.

What is a Wilderness First Responder (WFR)?

We are individuals who have been trained to respond to medical emergencies in remote locations. Remote locations are typically an hour or more away from a medical center. We learn the necessary critical decision making processes with respect to medical and evacuation problems. We are also current in standard first aid, CPR, and are trained to use epinephrine auto-injectors.

Who should take this kind of course?

Professional wilderness guides, trip leaders, search and rescue teams, outdoor recreation enthusiasts, and even international travelers would benefit from a wilderness medicine course. No prior medical training is necessary.

What sorts of material are covered in a WFR course?

You learn how to treat many common medical problems you might encounter outdoors, including: spinal cord care, chest injuries, hypothermia, infection prevention, athletic injuries, diabetes, anaphylaxis, abdominal injuries, etc. You also build your toolbox on how to make evacuation decisions and carry them out safely. This is often a prerequisite certification for professional guides.

What if I’m not a guide?

If you’re an outdoor enthusiast and want some training, you don’t necessarily need the 80-hour wilderness first responder course. Which course you need depends on what sorts of activities you’re involved in and the extent to which you spend time in the backcountry. You could try a wilderness first aid course (16 hours) which will give you the basics on managing some common ailments and on how to transport a person to treatment. Or you might take an advanced wilderness first aid course (36-40 hours) which covers longer term care and evacuation decision making and leaves more time for practice through scenarios.

How long is the Wilderness First Responder certification valid for?

3 years. I like to renew more frequently because I [thankfully] don’t end up with too many situations on trip. So the frequent certifications keep everything fresh in my mind.

What sorts of organizations offer these kinds of courses?

Canadian Wilderness Medicine Training (CWMT)

Boreal River

Wilderness Medical Associates (WMA)

Canadian Red Cross

Raven Rescue

NOLS

Photo Credit: Evergreen State College

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