Wilderness First Responder training in San Diego for an Iceland Guide

The tour guiding world in Iceland is exploding, and almost any people person who speaks decent English can get a job taking tourists around the Golden Circle. The problem is, a lot of them are either foreigners who don´t speak Icelandic or know Iceland as well as they should, or they´re Icelander´s who aren´t professionally trained in tour guiding or leading… yet. Its been evolving for the better the last couple of years, with the standard and safety of guide training getting better every year, but it´s not cheap to get all the licenses and certifications, so going abroad to train is still ideal for the career guide.

I have my first aid and CPR training from the Red Cross in Iceland, but it’s a single-evening course that you have to repeat every two years. This year, I decided to take an 80-hour Wilderness First Responder course instead, since that covers my basic training plus some, a whole bunch of some, and re-certification isn´t required until three years later. I had a handful of options as far as location – even Reykjavik was one – but I wanted the warmest place possible. That ruled Ohio and Colorado out, but California in, and last week, the Wilderness Leadership Institute ran one in San Diego.

We were five miles from the Mexican border, and the forecast said warm and sunny when I was packing my bags, but arriving in Jamul a week ago taught me that its not just in Iceland that the weather guy is wrong. It was cold and wet, with the most rainfall all year that area had seen all year, and my summer sleeping bag and one-season tent proved totally inadequate. Luckily our course had a lot of props to work with, so I borrowed a sleeping bag from the litter packaging and some warm layers from other students to survive the nights.

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practicing spine protection while lifting someone from a tree fall

We spent half our time in the classroom, learning about facts, figures and wilderness protocols, and the other half of the time outdoors running exercises and back-country medicine simulations. Sometimes you were the fake patient, practicing your Oscar acting skills, and other times you were the responder being tested, seeing if you could figure out what the right thing to do was, when to do it, how to relay it for other EMT or paramedic teams to understand, and when it simply wasn´t an emergency at all.

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being the fake patient; a double femur break means being carried down in a litter

I met some awesome people in the course, surrounded by like-minded, outdoor enthusiasts and leadership type-A people. A few of us drove into downtown San Diego on Saturday to celebrate St. Patricks day, and I left the course by ride-sharing with a guy to LA. It was such a relief to know I had passed, after a lot of intentional ASR and overwhelming amounts of information that I may or may not have absorbed all the way, and I was looking forward to a warm, dry night indoors in LA.

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