Life on the Arctic Coast: In This Archipelago, Community Is the Most Important Preparedness Resource

Brannsjef på Helligvær, Tor Inge Olaussen, ved branngarasjen
The Fire Chief, Tor Inge Olaussen, proudly shows off the fire garage in Helligvær. (Photo: Marie Staberg)

Helligvær (High North News): On the island of Helligvær in Northern Norway, one of the most valuable resources is community. The islanders trust each other, which is reflected in their preparedness plans.

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The archipelago Helligvær is located about 30 kilometers into the Vestfjord in Nordland, Northern Norway. The isolated location makes communication and transport to and from the islands challenging under difficult weather conditions.

With limited resources and a long distance to the mainland, an efficient preparedness plan is essential to the local community's security and quality of life.

Despite their challenges, the islanders have developed a preparedness strategy within fire and health.

Fire chief Tor Inge Olaussen stands outside a red garage with a white door. 

The garage is so small one can hardly move between all the equipment, which apparently is brand new.

"It feels safe to have the equipment here if something happens."

A trailer with a fire pump, an ATV, and fire hoses.

"Salten Brann [the regional fire department, ed. note] has stocked new, modern equipment and clothing, following the requirements over the years. More and more equipment has been added, but the garage has not gotten any bigger."

Olaussen hopes Bodø municipality, which owns the garage, can foot the bill for a new garage. That is a project he hopes to conclude before he retires next year.

Expertise in the districts

In Helligvær, preparedness is not just a theoretical exercise, it is also a necessity. 

The archipelago's inhabitants number about 100, 14 of whom are part of the fire department, according to the island's fire chief, Tor Inge Olaussen.

"It might sound like a lot for a small place, but the fire department is required to wear an emergency phone at all hours."

"We are not on call but must respond if available."

Everyone in the fire department receives training from Salten brann. 

"The basic training is very good and crucial. It provides a good foundation for taking action if something happens. I praise Salten Brann and the expertise they provide the part-time fire departments in the district."

"While we wait for the ambulance"

First aid equipment, oxygen, and a defibrillator. Tor Inge Olaussen and the fire department have been trained in all of it.

The background is the Norwegian Air Ambulance Foundation's project "While we wait for the ambulance."

The project aims to establish local preparedness based on fire departments and health personnel.

"We will be a resource, who can contribute while waiting for the helicopter bringing a doctor or the Norwegian Sea Rescue Society with the ambulance service to arrive at the scene."

Fremtidig landingsplass for SAR Queen på Helligvær
Fire Chief Tor Inge Olaussen shows the area that will become a landing site for the SAR Queen. As of today, the rescue helicopter cannot land in Helligvær as the previous landing sie does not meet the requirements. (Photo: Marie Staberg)

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