Being prepared: Taking a Wilderness First Responder Course

12 04 2013
Photo Credit: Lena Conlan/WMI of NOLS

Photo Credit: Lena Conlan/WMI of NOLS

Spring break for most is a time to celebrate and enjoy free time, but for a small group spring break meant waking up at seven a.m. and being in class by eight. Why? Because we wanted to become WFR’s. For those not familiar with the term WFR, it stands for Wilderness First Responder and is a first aid certification like no other. Most first aid classes focus on the basics, setting students up to be prepared for minor injuries in an urban setting. The WFR class is an eighty hour course that prepares its students to deal with injuries and illnesses in the backcountry. Taught by NOLS (National Outdoor Leadership School), the WFR certification has become an industry standard and has improved the safety of trips lead by outdoor educators.

Photo Credit: David Anderson/NOLS

Photo Credit: David Anderson/NOLS

Taking the WFR is an undertaking of its own, it means committing to the eighty hour course, and for some City of Eugene River House staff it meant giving up spring break. The first day we met at 7:45 a.m., and next thing we knew it was day two and we were doing scenarios.  Scenarios were used to teach us how to assess patients, plan for their care and record important details about the patient. We had the opportunity to have our scenarios near the Life Flight landing area which provided an exciting element when the Life Flight helicopter was taking off or landing.

The first scenarios were fun, and all of our practice patients were conveniently found lying on their backs, in the perfect patient position, which gave us the ability to easily assess them. By day four things changed, we went outside to find our patients and at first we could not. They were not lying on the grass or sidewalk, we looked around at each other wondering where the instructors had put our patients. Sensing our confusion the instructors pointed to the bushes lining the area we were standing in, as we approached the bushes we could see our patients, not conveniently placed on the grass and certainly not in the perfect patient position. Luckily for our patients we had spent the morning practicing rolls and carries that would protect their spines. We clambered into the bushes and proceed to carefully remove our patients, while the extraction and assessment went well, all of us had splinters from the mulch for the next few days. A reminder that patients don’t always lie down in the grass and get into the perfect patient position before having a medical emergency.

Throughout the class we were challenged to think critically and to use the information we had been taught to deal with unique situations. Overall the course provided an excellent understanding of the challenges we would face should medical issues arise in the back-country as well as how to handle issues and provide high quality care. While we may have given up our spring break, the information we learned is highly valuable and as summer approaches we feel ready to play outside knowing that if someone should have a medical emergency we are prepared to offer them a high level of care.

Written by Althea Sullivan

To learn more about the WFR visit their website:

To learn more about NOLS visit their website:

To learn about the history of NOLS and founder Paul Petzoldt (please watch this video):

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