The first week of my summer was spent in Springdale, Utah, conveniently located on the front door of Zion National Park and perhaps the most amazing place to take a Wilderness First Responder course. A WFR course — occasionally pronounced woofer — is an intensive, information-packed class, usually lasting one to two weeks, in which you learn how to handle emergencies in the back country. You are basically bombarded non-stop with material regarding everything that could ever possibly go wrong in the outdoors, and then you are taught how to deal with it without losing your head. I signed up for mine not knowing exactly what to expect, feeling slightly daunted yet highly intrigued, and I came out of it inspired and delightfully confident in my abilities.
If you are an outdoor guide of any sort, if you and your friends like to kip in the wild for extended periods of time, if you are a hostel hopper backpacking your way around, or if you enjoy learning ridiculously awesome things, this class is for you. No medical experience is necessary because they start you from scratch. There are a lot of different options when it comes to choosing a course, as well.
The class is available through numerous organizations such as NOLS
and Outward Bound
; I took mine through Wilderness Medicine of Utah. You can choose between 20-, 40- and 80-hour courses, depending on how much you are willing to spend and how dedicated you are capable/willing to be. There are even month-long courses in which you and your group will backpack into the back country and learn first-hand, while camping out, how to save someone in a life-threatening situation.
The way my course was structured, we all camped out around town in designated free campsites and met every morning at eight o'clock for six days. We would usually begin with a lecture of some sort, involving the whats and how-tos, and in the afternoon we would head outdoors to practice in mock scenarios. We began with CPR and first aid (the certification comes with the WFR) and progressed on to such things as how to create makeshift splints for broken bones, how to build stretchers for people with spinal injuries, how to treat for shock and hypothermia, and even how to handle psychotic breaks.
While the amount of information we were expected to learn in such a short period of time was enormous, our instructors made everything seem not only manageable, but easy to absorb and implement. Throughout the week we had several instructors filter in and out, each offering as much of their expertise as they could. There were a couple guides for a large outdoor company, a paramedic, a firefighter and several med students specializing in emergency care and wilderness first aid. I could tell simply by the way they talked and how they were so engaged with the material and with all of the students that every single one of them loved his or her job and loved teaching this class.
After this course I was inspired to continue my self-edification along similar lines and I plan on taking an EMT course in the fall. I was spurred to push my limits and take on further responsibility by the enthusiasm and infectious goodwill of both my instructors and my fellow students.
If for no other reason, courses like WFR are great to take simply to meet other people of similar outdoor interests and inclinations. Many of the people in the class with me were in their late 20s or early 30s, but not a single one of them looked a day older than 25, and I believe it is because of the amazing work that each one of them does for themselves and for others in the outdoors. So, for yourself and for your fellow hikers, I highly recommend taking this course; I guarantee you will find it a memorable and incredibly useful experience.