By David Rogers
Suggested Classroom use:
With rising numbers of tourists visiting Iceland, there has been increased demand on the volunteer services of ICE SAR. You could use this article to introduce the service as part of a wider unit on tourism, with increased demands on the rescue services considered as an impact of tourism. Another idea would be to get students to investigate advice that tourists should heed when travelling in the country, and create an information leaflet, weblog post or webpage.
Almost a million tourists visit Iceland each year, taking part in adventurous activities such as hiking on glaciers to exploring the highlands by four-wheel drive.
The Icelandic Association for Search and Rescue (ICE SAR) ensure the safety of these tourists as well as taking part in emergency hazard management and helping to educate native Icelanders and tourists about staying safe in the land of fire and ice.
To find out more about the organisation, we interviewed ICE SAR member and CEO of Vatnshellir Cave tours - Thor Magnusson:
What made you get involved in ICE SAR?
I started as a volunteer rescuer when I was 18 years old. At that time, I was a fisherman on small boats and trawlers around Iceland but my interests were the mountains and the wilderness all over the country. Anytime I heard of an emergency or people lost somewhere, I felt a strong urge to help those in need. I started in one of the teams in Reykjavík and trained with them for a few years until I moved to Akranes, a small fishing town in west Iceland, I was involved with this team for 8 years, (6 of them as the team leader). In Late 1987, the Association of Search and Rescue teams (Slysavarnafélag Íslands) invited me to become a supervisor and I was in service for 25 years. I started as a superintendent and later as the head of the rescue department.
What are the best things about the job?
To get the opportunity to become a member and spend your life as a rescuer was a dream come true for me. To work with so many great people, all determined to go as far as possible and risk their own life in search and rescue. Also, the warm and genuine greetings and thanks from victims and their relatives who were in need of help.
And the worst?
Sometimes it’s quite stressful, especially those moments when in charge of complicated rescue operations. It can also have a huge effect having lots of intrusion from the press or others. Then there are often complications which arise when decisions are made on very little information. These are often criticised afterwards.
What qualifications and training do members receive?
All members have to finish first level courses in multiple fields. This includes first aid, mountaineering, wilderness travel, navigation, safety on and around the ocean and white-water areas.
Do you mainly help tourists or Icelanders?
There are both tourists and Icelanders who get into problems. One of the most frequent call outs we receive are from tourists who get stuck in a car on a 4x4 mountain road, either in snow or dirt. We also get a few extreme adventurous tourists going up to the mountains without proper local knowledge.
How many incidents are ICE SAR involved in each year?
The organisation has a very good website where most general information is available. However, coordinates and rescue details are not available for the general public. Reports are sometimes published in coordination with the local police and a short summary of each rescue is published in the annual year book from the Association of Search and Rescue
Are Icelandic children taught how to deal with Iceland’s hazards in school?
Teaching of the risk of the environment is not compulsory in the Icelandic school system. I think the potential risks in Iceland are very much common sense to Icelandic people. For example, you don’t go out if you’re not dressed adequately. And you don’t swim in the ocean if the waves are big. We somehow really learn to appreciate and respect the Icelandic nature without knowing it, since it’s so natural to us.