Wilderness First Responder Training Question

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    Luke Schmidt
    BPL Member


    Locale: Alaska

    I have been wanting to get my WFR certification. I first looked at the NOLS courses and they are expensive and hard to fit into my schedule.

    I did some hunting around and found a couple programs offering "WFR" certifications with an online portion and a hands on practicum later. Anybody have any opinions on such programs? Are they as good and as respected if I was say guiding next year?

    Greg Mihalik


    Locale: Colorado

    I don't about the perception of online courses, but I do know the value of participating in a course with others. IMHO, it would be difficult to come away with the same level of understanding and confidence with a online remote course.

    When I did a 5 day course we did "practicums" a couple times a day, minimum. It's amazing how quickly "brain lock" can occur, even in a training situation. Practice with moaning/incoherent/irrational/strong victims is good.

    Hearing the questions of others, all of the "What if…" scenarios, all of the "This is what happened to me…", and the "How do you tell if…." was invaluable.

    We had two instructors and they had a lot of field experience. They had stories. They would say with confidence "…the book says this, but let me tell you something…"

    Money and time IS hard to come by, but if you expect to know and apply this information I suggest a class with a bunch of people, AND good instructors. (…and Good instructors are hard to find.)

    Best of luck with the decision.

    Edit: Check with any university that has an outdoor ed program. Chances are they have classes to get and keep their guides certified. At the very least they can help you find the folks teaching and when the next class might come up. At Colorado State University in Ft. Collins the WFR class is $400 for the 80 hours of class time.

    Luke Schmidt
    BPL Member


    Locale: Alaska

    I definitely agree that hands on is better Greg. I did the standard WFA course and the hands on was great. I just don't know if I can spend 9 days, plus the money, plus the hotel room. My working theory right now is whatever I get will be better then just a WFA recertification (assuming the folks I go with aren't completely fly by night).

    BPL Member


    Hi Luke,

    I had to take about 25% of my undergrad courses online though my university (career, babies and all that). I learned just as much from those classes as I did sitting in a brick and mortar classroom. With that being said…

    Ditto what Greg said. Online learning has its place but I think for healthcare related coursework, you're better off sitting in the classroom where you can benefit from interacting with the instructor. I haven't checked their prices lately but took the WFR course from Wilderness Medical Associates. I can't praise them enough.

    80% of something is better than 100% of nothing so take the online training if that's your only option but I'd opt for the in-class option if you can swing it.

    Edit: "plus the hotel room." Many of my fellow students were allowed to set up tents for the week to save cash.

    Rex Sanders
    BPL Member


    I've taken more WFR and WFR recert courses than I can remember, from NOLS and non-NOLS providers.

    The hands-on part is the most valuable part of a WFR course.

    I know from experience, that especially in high-stress situations, the body remembers what the brain forgot long ago.

    In a full, 10-day WFR, you get a mix of lectures and hands-on each day, so your brain isn't fried from learning one way or another. Cramming all the hands-on into a few days doesn't seem like a good idea.

    In NOLS WFR recert courses, you take the final written exam at 8 am on the first day. In most recerts, everyone passes the final, and learns a lot over the next three days of mostly hands-on practice.

    Recertification is also vital. You can't just take a WFR course once and call it good for the rest of your life. You will forget, your body will forget, and the state-of-the art in wilderness medicine changes regularly.

    If you can't afford the cost/time for a full WFR, the online/offline mix is better than nothing.

    But I highly recommend the full WFR.

    — Rex

    Jeremy and Angela
    BPL Member


    Locale: Northern California

    Aside from universities, you might also want to ping your local volunteer SAR groups to see who they use. The program I went through used a weekend format, which works much better with work schedules.

    With the online one, I'd be worried about the amount of practice time. (A decent messageboard/chat implementation could mitigate the other issues mentioned, but that may be too much to hope for.)

    David Thomas
    BPL Member


    Locale: North Woods. Far North.

    I've taught a few thousand students CPR, FA, AFA and WAFA. Like many have said, I would focus on the practical sessions that are offered to assess different courses. It's not the only criteria, but a great course has to put you through the ringer with a realistic, challenging practical sessions including make-up, scripted actors, wilderness-type supplies, etc.

    I was pretty good on single-victim scenarios before taking such a course since my hiking companions had had so many mishaps in the 1970's. But after such a course, I was first on the scene on a multi-car, multi-victim accident and it was easy in comparison. Everyone breathing? Check. Found everyone? Yes. Okay, slow down and go back to the quietest victims and assess to greater depth.

    If you end up doing an on-line option for cost or schedule reasons, consider how to get involved in some well-run practical sessions. You could, for instance, volunteer as a victim. It is a valuable perspective on what works well and what doesn't.

    I'd prefer a course that had a concise goal: "To provide care for the first 48 hours after an injury or illness" for instance. Or "24 hours" or "7 days". But for the instructor to consciously be somewhere between "treat for 20 minutes until the ambulance arrives" and prep'er-style, "Doctor Quinn, Medicine Woman".

    I wasn't as keen on the ski patrol and life guard wannabes who just wanted the cert for a seasonal job. But Boy Scout leaders who would take it that seriously, backpackers who'd seen stuff happen, and especially trans-oceanic sailors were the much better students to be in class with.

    Edited to add: ironically, as I type this, my wife is across the room on her computer recert'ing in ACLS (advanced cardiac life support) online. Patient's skin tone, vitals, Q&A, EKGs, response to administered drugs, and co-workers' input are all automated and vary with one's actions and decisions as one gets thrown into different scenarios. Kind of like flight stimulators – they can put you through weird and serious stuff and no one gets hurt. But that's a not a $150 course at the Red Cross!

    Sharon J.
    BPL Member


    Locale: SF Bay area

    My local chapter of the Sierra Club offered the weekend WFA class substantially cheaper than the University did; that might be another place to check.

    Bob Gross
    BPL Member


    Locale: Silicon Valley

    WFA is a far cry from WFR.


    Sharon J.
    BPL Member


    Locale: SF Bay area

    "WFA is a far cry from WFR."

    True. However, an organization that offers discounted WFA classes may be worth checking to see if they also offer WFR classes.

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