Norwegian People’s Aid: A passion that saves lives
You’ve lost all sense of direction, staring into the fog in front of you. The rocks are slippery. It’s starting to get cold. You hope hypothermia won’t hit you if you keep moving. Suddenly a voice breaks through the eerie silence of the mountains. The voice calls your name.
With its spectacular terrain, from fjord to steep and tall mountains, Møre og Romsdal county in Western Norway is seeing an explosive growth in people’s recreational use of nature. Today, about half of the rescue missions in the region involves a search for one or more missing persons, and this effort often relies on the knowledge and skills of the local volunteers of the Norwegian People’s Aid.
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For the people by the people
If you happen to be in Romsdalen and need rescuing, there’s a chance that the person calling your name through the fog will be Anne Kristin Angvik or Inger Lise Monsøy. They are part of the Norwegian People’s Aid’s local search and rescue team at Nesset. The tiny settlement on the northeastern shore of Langfjorden is surrounded by the majestic towering peaks of the Romsdal mountains — an area known as the birthplace of Scandinavian rock climbing, home to Europe’s tallest vertical rock face Trollveggen, and famous for some of the world’s most difficult climbs. It’s also where Anne Kristin and Inger Lise volunteer their time to rescue others.
As volunteer members of the Norwegian People’s Aid, Anne Kristin and Inger Lise work to protect life and health. Their team is one of 70 search and rescue teams throughout the country, all working towards the same goal. To execute this mission requires trust — from the local community, from members all over the country who support the organization with donations, and from the volunteers who spend their free time to help others.
Local search and rescue teams are professional resources comprised solely of volunteer experts, and they have earned their trust through years of helping people in need. The Nesset team consists of men and women from their early 20s to 60s, and like the other 2,000 search and rescue volunteers in the Norwegian People’s Aid, they are often called on as a last resort when local authorities cannot access the location of a person in need of rescuing. This means they must be able to navigate dangerous terrain in unpredictable weather, day or night.
For a team that is on-call 365 days a year, 24 hours a day, trusting yourself and trusting fellow team members is essential. With the life of the person being rescued, and even their own lives, on the line, the team must be able to trust in the knowledge and capability of one another in order to successfully execute the mission and return home safely.
There are so many different people coming together and working alongside each other in the volunteer teams of the Norwegian People's Aid. We're social, we're all friends and we help each other a lot.
It’s all about the team
At the HQ in Nesset, Anne Kristin, Inger Lise and the team have gathered for a debrief. The mission was a success. A young man was surprised by thick fog while hiking in the mountains and was reported missing by his family. The Nesset team managed to locate him and bring him down to a waiting ambulance. Now it’s time for the team members to share their experience.
The debrief is an integral part of the process. For Anne Kristin, being part of the team means being able to rely on each other and know that every person has done everything they could. After each mission, they have a debrief to discuss and learn from each other. It’s a chance to share the experience and an important part of earning each other’s trust. “A policy in our team is that after a mission, no matter what the result is, we don’t let anybody go home without talking to them first … It’s important to let the members tell how they experienced the mission. None of us are more important than the other,” she says. After more than seven years as a volunteer, she knows the importance of having someone to lean on.
Before participating in a rescue mission, there are several rigorous courses and exams that must be completed in order to become a uniformed member of the Norwegian People’s Aid, including first aid courses, individual search and rescue exercises, and written tests. On top of that, there are also weekly training exercises where the team comes together to work through a variety of challenging scenarios. Because each person must go through extensive and thorough training, the team members can trust that they are prepared with the knowledge and experience to endure a rescue mission in harsh conditions.
We carry our uniforms proudly. When people see us in our uniforms, they see us as professionals, and they expect us to do a good job. Our hobby is basically to save lives.
In order to function as a team and succeed in a mission, each member of the team must feel safe and trust that they can rely on each other no matter what happens. “We have to put our own safety in the first line, before we can rescue anybody else … I think that if I was to come in a dangerous situation, I would completely trust my team members to rescue me.”
Saving people and places
For the volunteers at Nesset, it’s not all about rescuing hikers getting lost in the mountains. Sometimes they search for kids that chose a detour on their way home from school and got surprised by the dark, or they look for an elderly person who no longer remembers the way home. They also arrange first aid courses for local people and companies.
They’re an essential part of the community, making it easier for people to live among mountains and fjords. Volunteers like Anne Kristin and Inger Lise are the backbone of society’s readiness to keep people safe, especially in locations where the government cannot provide safety for everyone in all conditions. Their presence, equipment and local knowledge is invaluable to search and rescue missions, making it possible for the Norwegian People’s Aid to help maintain safer communities.
FACTS ABOUT SEARCH & RESCUE
The importance of the volunteers’ work increases year by year. During the last 10 years, the number of rescue missions in Norway has increased by about 10 percent annually, and the share of volunteer missions has increased from about 20 to 25 percent. With climate change, more extreme weather, increased tourism and people’s changing use of nature, the number of rescue missions will likely continue to increase.
Thanks to these volunteers, you can trust that someone is coming to find you if something happens, no matter where you are. And you can trust that the volunteers who find you, know what to do, no matter what situation you’re in.