Hosted by Colorado College’s Department of Outdoor Education, the Wilderness First Responder (WFR) Half-Block course trains students to make critical medical and evacuation decisions in remote locations. The 80-hour (10-day) course is nationally recognized as the standard in wilderness medicine education.
Anyone who travels in areas where access to medical care could be delayed or communication is unreliable could be exposed to risk of injury or illness. The course combines classroom training with first aid and rescue scenarios to build skills that potentially could save lives.
Ryan Hammes, director of Outdoor Education, says each year 120 CC students take their initial certification for Wilderness First Responder, which costs $650, or get their recertification.
“It comes down to access,” Hammes says. “As our student demographics change, we want to be inclusive and reach marginalized populations that want to advance themselves in outdoor education and recreation. If you can’t afford training, it puts you at a disadvantage.”
When CC launched its crowdfunding platform in Spring 2016, one of the first projects it supported was the Wilderness First Responder project. Altogether, 15 donors gave $3,303 to fully fund the project, which provided full course scholarships for two students and subsidized fees for several other students.
One of the students who benefitted from those gifts was Sarah Laico ’19.
“When I first arrived at CC and was exposed to Outdoor Education’s phenomenal leadership training program, I felt completely incapable. I didn’t have the knowledge, experience, or gear — in my eyes — to become a competent leader. However, as I began tackling the leadership trainings offered through Outdoor Education, with the help of the Outdoor Education Scholarship, I came to recognize my ability to successfully guide others in the wilderness,” says Laico.
Laico saw the WFR course as an important stepping-stone in her outdoor leadership training, but the course fee was worrisome, even with her family’s willingness to help her pay for it. Gifts from the crowdfunding project made it possible for Laico to receive aid for half of the cost of the course.
“By taking the course, I became fully equipped to deal with all sorts of backcountry illnesses and injuries. It opened my eyes to the dangers of leading and how to mitigate risk. Most importantly, it gave me the CPR and first aid skills to become a fully established outdoor leader at CC. I’ve since led a rafting trip and two backpacking trips. Each trip reinforced what I learned in WFR, which in turn has made me excited to keep leading and jumping on new experiences and opportunities,” says Laico.
Crowdfunding at Colorado College has supported 12 projects thus far, and a new iteration of projects will launch in December.