How to Become a Wilderness First Responder: Career Roadmap

Jul 16, 2018

Research the requirements to become a wilderness first responder. Learn about the job description and duties, and read the step-by-step process to start a career in wilderness first response.

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  • 0:00 Wilderness First…
  • 1:31 Complete a WFR Program
  • 2:07 Get Certified
  • 2:42 Register with the WMS

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Wilderness First Responder Career Info

Training Required Up to 80 hours of hands-on training
Certification Certification in CPR and WFR
Experience None
Key Skills Ability to work both independently and with a team, to remain calm under stress, and to work in difficult environments; able communicate effectively and work with patients
Salary $35,299 (2016 median for park rangers)
$38,000 (2016 median for ski patrollers)

Sources: National Outdoor Leadership School, Wilderness Medical Associates International

Wilderness first responders (WFRs) perform life-saving first aid on patients who become injured in remote outdoor locations. As the first responders on the scene of a wilderness accident, they must be prepared to quickly and effectively treat whatever injury they find with only the contents in their packs and stabilize the patient for transport. Training in this field is recommended for outdoor enthusiasts, as well as such professionals as trail guides, park rangers, ski patrollers, rafting instructors, camp counselors, military personnel, and others who work outdoors in a leadership capacity. Responders often face physically challenging and dangerous situations. While they work outdoors, the work hours may be irregular, depending on accidents and reports.

Wilderness first responders should have some key skills. They should be able to work both independently and with a team, to remain calm under stress, to work in difficult environments, to communicate effectively, and to apply learned techniques when working with patients. The salary for wilderness first responders varies depending on each individual's base career. For example, according to, park rangers made a median annual salary of $35,299 in 2016, while ski patrollers earned about $38,000 annually.

Complete a Wilderness First Responder Program

Training in wilderness first response can be found through educational institutions and professional organizations. Wilderness first responder training includes running students through mock medical emergency situations in remote outdoor locations. Some of the training topics include cold injuries, head trauma, wound treatment, and patient stabilization. Most programs conclude with both a written and hands-on skills assessment. Some schools allow students to transfer some of their WFR credits towards EMT training programs.

Get Certified

Schools and professional organizations offer certification examinations and programs for wilderness first responders. Some training programs result in certification in WFR and CPR through the school, while other programs offer students wilderness medicine certification through the Wilderness Medicine Institute. Certification is valid for two to three years, depending on the program completed. The Wilderness Medicine Institute offers recertification programs for first responders that award continuing education credits upon passage of an exam.

Register with the Wilderness Medical Society

The Wilderness Medical Society (WMS) maintains a professional registry of wilderness first responders, which was created to uphold professional standards in this field. To qualify for the registry, responders must apply for a fellowship with the WMS, complete a specific amount of educational credits, and have experience as a wilderness first responder. Potential employers and government agencies have access to this registry, which may enhance job opportunities.

To sum up, wilderness first responders can work in a variety of careers, but first, they should complete up to 80 hours of hands on training and gain certification in CPR and WFR.

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