Wilderness First Responder: Career Summary, Employment Outlook and Education Requirements

Wilderness first responders are individuals who are trained to respond to and deal with medical emergencies that take place in remote, wilderness situations. Typically, completing a 72- to 80-hour training course and passing exams are required for certification as a wilderness first responder (WFR). Continue reading for more details about what this career entails and how to become a WFR. Schools offering Fire & Emergency Services degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What You Need to Know

Wilderness first responders are the first medical personnel on the scene of a non-urban emergency. Responders apply specific principles to examine and stabilize patients until they can be treated.

Responsibilities Apply principles learned in training to examine and stabilize patients on the scene
Median Salary (2017) $33,380 (EMTs and paramedics)
Employment Outlook (2016-2026) 15% (EMTs and paramedics)
Training Wilderness First Responder course (WFR), about 72-80 hours long

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)

What Degree Programs and Certifications Are Available?

Training courses for wilderness first responders are available nationwide through various private sources, as well as through the recreation programs of universities and colleges. Courses typically run 5-10 days and contain approximately 72-80 hours of instruction. You usually need to be at least 16 years old to enroll. If you complete a training program through an accredited school, you may be able to earn credit hours or continuing education units.

Subject matter typically includes prevention and identification of medical emergencies, risk management, CPR, basic life support (BLS), altitude illness, hypothermia, lightning, wound management, dislocations, splinting, bandaging and litter packaging. Programs typically include didactic components, like lectures and case studies, as well as practical training, including role playing and rescue simulations. You will need proper outdoor gear when traveling into real remote situations to practice your skills.

Completion of a wilderness first responder program leads to eligibility for certification and the right of individuals to append the WFR designation following their name. After finishing your training, you typically must pass written and practical skills examinations. WFR certification is renewable every two years upon successful completion of an approved recertification course.

Certification as a wilderness first responder is not necessarily a career-determining factor. It can be looked at as a skill set that can be applied as needed in emergencies that occur in remote areas during the conduct of another activity.

Schools and Training Centers for Wilderness First Responders

Here is a list of schools and training centers that offer in-depth wilderness first responder training, as well as examples of what you will learn within these programs:

  • University of California at Berkeley Recreation Sports' Wilderness Medicine Program - course provides hybrid classroom and outdoor training to prepare registrants to make medical decisions in real time. Course includes two evening sessions with a night scenario
  • NOLS Wilderness First Responder Program - Training teaches students to conduct physical exams, obtain patient history, assess vital signs and provide emergency care in the woods
  • Johns Hopkins University Ralph S. O'Connor Recreation Center Wilderness First Responder Program - Classroom lectures and mock patient scenarios prepare students to make medical evaluations and decisions in varied environments.

What Kind of Employment Prospects Can I Expect?

Typically, training as a wilderness first responder is useful, if not required, for forest rangers, search and rescue team members, outdoor educators, guides and research expedition members. In many cases, training as a wilderness first responder is the first step for individuals who go on to careers as emergency care providers. It can also serve as a separate qualification for those already in the medical field. Although the BLS doesn't compile statistics specifically for wilderness first responders, careers for EMTs and paramedics in general were predicted to grow 15% from 2016-2026.

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

  • 1. Degree Options:
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