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    December 2020

    Trust Makes it Possible: Norwegian People’s Aid

    As you lean over the ledge, who has your back? For most outdoor enthusiasts, it’s your hiking partner, the people on your trip. But in the rare and terrifying instances when equipment fails and your friends can’t help, the Norwegian People’s Aid is there to answer the call. 

    For these rescue professionals, support comes from the people on their team, many hours of training, and reliable gear. Made up of over 2,000 search and rescue volunteers across the country, the Norwegian People’s Aid is often called on as a last resort when local authorities cannot access the location of a person in need of rescuing. 

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    Trust is one of the main things that must be present to achieve success in a rescue operation. Kristoffer Christiansen: Team leader - Swiftwater and Flood Rescue

    As you lean over the ledge, who has your back? For most outdoor enthusiasts, it’s your hiking partner, the people on your trip. But in the rare and terrifying instances when equipment fails and your friends can’t help, the Norwegian People’s Aid is there to answer the call. 

    For these rescue professionals, support comes from the people on their team, many hours of training, and reliable gear. Made up of over 2,000 search and rescue volunteers across the country, the Norwegian People’s Aid is often called on as a last resort when local authorities cannot access the location of a person in need of rescuing. 

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    search and rescue team in the mountains

     

    This means they must be able to navigate dangerous terrain in unpredictable weather, day or night. These professionals are on-call 365 days a year, 7 days a week, 24 hours a day. How is it possible for these volunteer professionals to be able to rescue people in such harsh conditions while under extreme pressure? Trust makes it possible. 

    Strength through training and experience

    Rescue professionals of the Norwegian People’s Aid are certified for rescue missions by an intense training and certification process. All members of the NPA search and rescue teams undergo approximately 70 hours of mandatory training courses in search and rescue, first aid, and communication. They also have teams specialized in certain tactics like “avalanche rescue” and “swiftwater and flood rescue”, which require additional training and courses. In addition, all volunteers have periodical exercises and training to maintain their knowledge and skills.

     

    man hiking in rescue gear

     

    This universal training enables them to have a base level of confidence in one another before ever going on a call; they know their partner is skilled and prepared. From that initial foundation, a rescue team will build on shared experiences, both challenges and successes, to move forward in future life-saving missions.

    In Møre og Romsdal county, rescue operations can take place in majestic fjords, high and steep mountains, big rivers, and urban areas. Covering this diverse terrain is Kristoffer Christiansen of the Norwegian People’s Aid. He has been working for nearly eight years as a volunteer rescue professional. Five of those years were spent as a rescue boat captain in the Norwegian Sea Rescue Society before he started in the Norwegian People’s Aid, which has been his rescue family for the last three years. During those eight years, he has searched for people on the water, in the suburbs, and in the mountains. He has accompanied EMS workers on remote islands to assist in heart attack calls, helped vessels in distress, and witnessed families and friends cry over their losses. But most importantly,  “I have also seen happiness and tears of joy when things go well. Every mission has elements of the unknown. These elements need to be controlled through teamwork, and when this control is achieved, it builds knowledge and experience and trust in your abilities. It creates a feeling of mastery.” 

     

    search and rescue team in canyon

    In unknown terrain, what can you trust?

    There are a lot of variables involved in search and rescue. Who is the subject being rescued and what is their condition? What is the terrain on that given day? What is the weather? It’s important to have some steady things to rely on. For Kristoffer, there is a crucial foundation to any search and rescue operation involving your team, your equipment, and yourself. In his own words:

     

    “Trust is not something that can be bought or given away freely, trust is something that is earned either by hard work, achievements, reputation, and by proving your capabilities over time. This applies both to people and equipment. In a rescue team, we start building trust when undergoing basic training, after the training and the final exams you have achieved the trust needed to function within a rescue team. Other team members will know that you have the basic skills necessary to be involved in rescue operations. But the building of trust never stops – during training, rescue operations, and even in other social gatherings, the level of trust will increase, and that is not only on a personal level between individuals, but this applies to the equipment you are using, the clothes and uniforms, vehicles and most important of all, the trust in yourself.”

    No trust without Resilience. 

    Trust is an evolutionary process. As Kristoffer points out, it’s an evolutionary process with a starting point, but no end. Along this journey, search and rescue professionals are put to the test — forced to be resilient. 

     

    profiles of men on rescue mission

     

    Kristoffer recalls a training exercise where focus, communication, and resilience enabled his team to achieve their goal:

     

    “During the Swift Water Rescuer Exam, one of our tasks was to get to a patient on the other side of a 40 meter-wide river and evacuate them on our side for further treatment. The river had a consistently fast flow, with several challenging areas for us to pass through. Although the spring weather wasn’t freezing, it’s always more difficult to think clearly in cold water. When we first went in the river, conditions made it hard to navigate through the rough parts. It was impossible to know when to start swimming. We had several attempts, and after a while it was my turn to jump in after watching half of my team fail. But then one of my teammates suggested that he could use his whistle to signal when I should start swimming, and that my only focus then would be to hold my heading towards the patient. By following this process, I made it to the other side. After that, we retrieved the patient flawlessly. You could feel the “team spirit” hovering for the rest of the day, and everyone did their part, and we all passed the exam, but we passed it as a team.”

     

    For Kristoffer, he and his team built the solution through one another’s failures. Individual challenges created a resilient team. Ultimately, Kristoffer could trust the teammate at his back to guide him forward, enabling him to proceed with his eyes on the goal. That’s trust. That’s what makes it possible. 

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