How to Become a Wilderness First Responder in 5 Steps

Explore the career requirements for wilderness first responders. Get the facts about training, certification and skills to determine if this is the right career for you. Schools offering Fire & Emergency Services degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Does a Wilderness First Responder Do?

As a wilderness first responder (WFR), you will provide CPR and basic life support in isolated environments, such as forests and mountains, often during extreme weather conditions. Upon arriving at the scene, WFRs must assess the condition of patients, take vital signs, and perform emergency medical care. Some possible conditions they may face include hypothermia, frostbite, altitude sickness, lacerations, burns, and dislocations. WFRs may work in a rescue team or as nature and adventure guides who have pursued WFR training. The following chart provides an overview about becoming a wilderness first responder.

Training Required Wilderness first responder training program
Certification Employers may require professional WFR certification
Key Skills First aid and trauma medical skills; cardiopulmonary resuscitation; ability to make medical and evacuation decisions
Median Salary (May 2015)$31,980 (for emergency medical technicians and paramedics)*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Is a Wilderness First Responder?

Wilderness First Responders (WFR) act as emergency medical technicians in remote settings, treating wounds such as environmental toxins, open fractures, lacerations, frostbite, burns and blisters. This includes assessing the patient's conditions by identifying all of the medical problems and acting quickly to prevent further discomfort to the patient.

Step 1: Decide if You Should Become a WFR

Earning WFR certification is recommended if you work in remote, low-resource areas. Typically, if you are on a professional search and rescue team; involved in disaster relief; or work as an outdoors educator, guide or researcher, then a WFR certification is recommended for you. This credential may also be appropriate if you spend a lot of time in the wilderness for recreation. You will need to be at least 16 years old and have written parental permission if you are under 18 years of age to take a Wilderness First Responder certification class.

Step 2: Select a Wilderness First Responder Course

Many organizations offer WFR courses. The Wilderness Medical Associates International, First Lead, Wilderness Medicine Institute - National Outdoor Leadership School and Wilderness Medicine Outfitters all offer numerous wilderness medicine courses including the WFR. A WFR course can cost you between $595 and $1,580, depending on the length of the program, lodging, meals and location.

Step 3: Attend a Wilderness First Responder Course

Wilderness First Responder courses involve 70-80 hours of instruction and training in the outdoors, which involve case studies, scenarios and practical emergency skills. Depending on the program, your WFR class might last five, seven, eight or ten days. You will need to complete homework assignments, take exams and pass a healthcare-provider-level CPR certification to finish the program. Your WFR certification is valid for three years, as is recertification.

Step 4: Recertify as a Wilderness First Responder

Before your WFR certification expires, you will need to demonstrate that your skills are up-to-date by taking a WFR recertification class. You can obtain recertification at any organization that provides Wilderness First Responder courses. Recertification classes are typically 2-3 days and include quizzes, tests and hands-on procedures.

Step 5: Consider a Wilderness Career

If you are not already working in the wilderness but have passed your WFR certification, you may consider working for a non-profit, government or private company. Organizations in all three sectors may hire you for positions like teacher, guide and children's camp health manager. For certain jobs, you may also need certifications in CPR, First Aid or Lifeguarding along with professional experience. A bachelor's degree might also be necessary for some occupations.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

If you're interested in becoming a Wilderness First Responder, there are a few other jobs this level of education and training would prepare you for. Many WFRs work as tour guides or adventure guides, leading people on strenuous hikes or rafting trips, for example. If you don't have an interest in working in the wilderness, you could also work as a guide for another attraction, like a museum or a park. If you are particularly skilled in emergency situations, you could pursue a career as an EMT or paramedic. These professionals also have to be prepared to administer emergency medical care to people and possess the ability to think and react decisively.

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