Clearing up the confusion with wilderness first aid training in Australia
It may be an understatement to say that information regarding Wilderness first aid in Australia is confusing at best. Mention Wilderness First Aid to anyone and the chances are you will be met with a range of different opinions on the definition of “wilderness” and which company is which when it comes to teaching it.
My aim in writing this article is to hopefully clear up some of this confusion by explaining some of the history in the evolution of wilderness first aid over the last 10 -15 years. These are purely my thoughts and recollection so I hope not to offend anyone and I ask that anyone correct me if they feel I have written in error. I do not currently instruct for, or contract to any of the training providers/organisations mentioned.
First of all, a little background on myself. My name is Jason Taylor or JT as most people I have trained would remember me. I have been involved with First Aid training for 17 years and Wilderness First Aid (WFA) training in Australia for more than a decade including instructing, writing curriculum, developing courses and mentoring new instructors. I have watched considerable changes take place with WFA over that time. Some good and some that have left me scratching my head wondering why. More about me later.
Today there are a number of organisations teaching WFA around Australia with most of the main players being based in Victoria. Wilderness First Aid Australia (WFAA), Wilderness First Aid Consultants (WFAC), Survive First Aid hold most of the market share with a number of other smaller providers offering similar courses. St John Ambulance, Red Cross and some of the other mainstream urban first aid organisations offer similar training by name, but don’t really compare to the scenario based style of training that is typically offered in WFA courses
Background on WFA training in Australia
Sue Ash and Margot Hurrell through their company, the original Wilderness First Aid Consultants (WFAC) can be credited as pioneers in Wilderness First Aid in Australia and whereas I am sure there are people who taught this before them, for the purpose of this article they are first point of reference when describing the evolution of WFA. They built a reputation for delivering quality courses that were suited to the needs of the outdoor industry. In July 1999, Wilderness Medicine Institute (WMI), a division of NOLS USA entered Australia to deliver WFA training. The parent company Equip, purchased the WMI licence (trading as WMI Australia from 2004-2009) and in turn purchased WFAC, so for a number of years WMI courses were the major provider of WFA training around Australia. People throughout the outdoor education industry became very accustomed to the WMI name, however in 2009 Equip and WMI decided to part ways for reasons which I won’t go into here. Equip decided to go it alone under the name Equip Wilderness First Aid Institute and WMI along with a number of senior instructors disappeared from Australia. Equip sold their training business to Fiona McColley, who reverted back to the WFAC name and the reputation that went with it. In 2010, WMI re-entered the Australian market, this time in conjunction with Neil Ritchie which ran successfully until October 2011, when WMI transitioned to what we now know as Wilderness First Aid Australia (WFAA). It is here where I must confess that I had a lot to do with the development of WMI when it re-entered Australia and as it transitioned to WFAA. Neil and I remain good friends to this day, however I don’t believe this article shows any bias towards WFAA.
In 2013, WFAA purchased Wild Aid, who at the time was another leading provider of WFA. So basically the old WMI split into 2 rival providers who now share similar names- WFAA and WFAC.
Confused yet? Who can blame you. It is easy to see why there is some confusion when booking courses and trying to remember who you did the course with last time, especially when some instructors have migrated between the 2 providers over the years. Anyway, hopefully it has clarified a few things. But wait there’s more. A few years ago Survive First Aid, owned by Adam Kershaw, became another provider of WFA.
So what about the courses on offer and why do some providers call it “remote” and others call it “wilderness”. Traditionally (over the last 10 years or so) there were 3 main levels of Wilderness First Aid in Australia. The 4 day/32 hour Wilderness Advanced First Aid. This course was utilised by organisations such as TAFE’s and schools as it covered the basic requirements needed to fulfil qualifications such as the Certificate IV in Outdoor Recreation. Recently some providers have chosen to rename this course remote first aid. Why? I’ll touch on that in the next paragraph. The 7 day Leaders Wilderness Advanced First Aid (LWAFA or now just called Leaders Wilderness First Aid by some) has long been the industry standard in the Outdoor Education realm. These days it includes the units of competency that compose the Wilderness First Aid skills set (taken from the Sport, Recreation and Fitness Training Package) Some providers are now running this in less than 7 days, eg- 5 days. Is this affecting the quality of the training? Time will tell no doubt. One can only imagine that it is to lower costs and offer the same outcome (as far as what’s on paper) at a lower price. The pinnacle of WFA training in Australia has been the 10 day Wilderness First Responder course, although this course seems to be fading away to oblivion. It is generally not a requirement by industry and is usually attended by those who want to develop a higher level of personal skill and knowledge.
So what’s the difference between remote and wilderness first aid? If you ask me, NOTHING. Wilderness First Aid has been adopted from the American terminology and is used by industry in Australia almost by default. None of the units of competency (whether it is from the health/HLT or sport & rec/SIS training packages) in any of the courses mention the word "wilderness" in their title, only "Remote". Some organisations will try to justify a difference between the terms stating that Wilderness is more advanced than remote, or remote means you have a support vehicle with copious amounts of first aid equipment to back you up, whereas wilderness is improvising and using what gear you have in your backpack. I have even heard some people say that remote is more than 20 minutes away from definitive medical care, while wilderness is more than 1 hour or 2 hours. Well which one is it? I challenge anyone to find me anything official as to what constitutes each. I bet you can’t, other than what each of the providers state on their website. So really the use of either term is the provider’s own interpretation of wilderness verse remote. As for the difference between the HLT and SIS remote first aid units of competency- The SISOOPS305A unit is used by "Wilderness" first aid training organisations as it better represents the reality of being in a remote/wilderness area with respect to improvised techniques and certain “wilderness only” skills such as Spinal Injury clearance techniques, relocation of dislocations etc. These skills are one of the things that has set Wilderness first aid training apart from urban based first aid courses. They are also NOT listed as skills in the HLTAID005 unit. So that begs the question- Is your provider offering you the HLTAID005 unit and not the SISOOPS305A, yet still teaching you the “wilderness only” skills. That is a can of worms to open on another occasion. The sad thing is, it looks as though the SIS remote unit may disappear in favour of the HLT version, so where will that leave wilderness First Aid training in the future.
I hope this has helped and not confused the issue even more.
More about the author
Jason Taylor holds tertiary qualifications in Education and Training, Nursing and vocational qualifications in Paramedical Science, Outdoor Recreation, OHS, Sports and training & education. He has authored numerous manuals, study guides and course material for organisations such as TAFE Qld, Swinburne University of Technology and private Registered Training Organisations.
He is the owner of Category 5 Health and Emergency Care which provides first aid training of all levels through to Certificate IV in Healthcare and provides event medic coverage and contract paramedic services at various sporting, corporate and public events. Jason also works as a nurse at Cairns Hospital.
Visit the website: category5.net.au to see more or email