When Northvolt Ett, Europe's first gigafactory, began fine-tuning its production, the company made it clear: there would be fire alarms.
Northvolt itself has acknowledged that the current situation, a "meeting between production, commissioning, and construction creates a complex environment for the health, safety, and environment (HSE) team."
Now the people to lead the effort are in place.
Fire chief Filip Hedlund has worked at Northvolt for almost three years and has been an officer in the part-time fire department at Boliden Rönnskär. He has previously worked as an HSE inspector at Northvolt Ett and later as the head of all the company's HSE inspectors. He has been the fire chief for most of 2023.
Emergency services chief Jon Godhe has been with the company for just over a month and comes from Umeå. He has a long career in the fire service and has worked as an incident commander, regional incident commander and has also run his own company, focusing mainly on health and safety in heavy industry.
– I was contacted and it turned out to be an incredibly exciting journey and challenge for me, he says when Norran meets him. Filip Hedlund emphasizes the uniqueness of what they are building:
– We are very much focused on development as we become the first onsite emergency service in a battery factory. We want to be a model for future units, he says, and his colleague continues:
– It was exciting when Filip described the mission: You have to build the organization, you have to build a fire station and staff it. Just to achieve that is a challenge, says Jon.
There is a requirement from the municipality that Northvolt Ett's onsite emergency services must be fully operational by January 1, 2024. Today, the first group of the future response team is being trained.
– We are both recruiting and training at the same time, and we are looking for more people to join us, says Jon.
When fully established, the goal is for the team to consist of five to six people in supervisory roles, along with an additional 30 to 40 people working in various roles within Northvolt Ett's operations who are also "first responders" as part of the emergency service.
– We are building it up as a part-time organization with a slightly higher level of readiness on the part of the officers. They work in regular production or other positions in the factory, and when the alarm bells go off, they are supposed to come quickly to our fire station, change clothes and respond to the alarm, explains Jon.
The difference with other part-time stations is that the personnel should be at work when the alarm goes off.
– Since we have such a large workplace, we will try to locate the personnel and have them available on site, which also provides a faster response time, says Filip.
Today, the beginnings of a fire station are being built on Northvolt Ett's premises; changing rooms are also being built.
– We will have at least one basic vehicle, a fire truck. Then we will have some sort of specialized resource, chemical handling capability, and self-decontamination capability. We will have an initial response time of ten minutes. That's what the municipality requires, and that's what we're building our organization around, says Jon.
Many of today's alarms have required significant resources because the exact nature of the incident was not immediately clear. Work is now underway to improve accuracy.
– As we have more and more automatic fire alarms, we have more automatic requests to SOS Alarm about which units will be needed for the alarm. We already have monthly meetings with all the emergency services - fire brigade, ambulance and emergency medical services - to continuously evaluate all the responses. We have been doing this for at least two years. Now the dialog is even closer, with more focus on what the fire service expects from us, including joint training and exercises, says Filip.
"We made a decision in the first week that we should be in close contact about the way things are and what we do. We should be transparent and it should be a two-way communication, says Jon.
The first battery cell was produced at Northvolt Ett during the 2021 holiday season.
According to CEO Peter Carlsson, the company aims to reach half of the capacity in the first two of five production blocks by 2024, with the goal of delivering the planned 16 gigawatt-hours of battery cells per year by 2025.