Deputy Chief Petter HolmstrÃ¶m tells us about his department
Over the summer, through Facebook, I became acquainted with a firefighter from Finland in a post about hoseline stretches. He shared how his department runs lines and I asked him if he would be willing to explain it in greater detail to our audience. Deputy Chief HolmstrÃ¶m went far beyond a simple explanation and provided us with details, photos and videos as well as background on how his department is setup and operates.
When I was younger I often thought of fire departments outside of the United States as weird purely due to a narrow-minded visual. As with everything that comes along with age, and having an open mind, what we may have once thought of as weird is now only different. Different is neither good nor bad as the subject matter has applications pertinent to its environment. Thank you to Deputy Chief HolmstrÃ¶m for sharing this difference. – Bill
Emergency Services in Finland
The emergency services in Finland are handled by 22 regional fire departments (or rescue departments if you translate the name term directly). These departments are administered by the largest city in the region and all the other cities and municipalities pay for this service based on the number of inhabitants.
The regional fire departments employ full-time firefighters that cover the urban areas.
The rest of the country is covered by either part-time fire fighters or contract fire fighters. You will also find part-time/contract fire fighters in the urban areas, where they support or complement the full-time crews.
The difference between a part time fire fighter and a contract fire fighter is that a part time firefighter has an employment contract with the regional fire department, whereas the contract firefighter is a member of a voluntary fire department, which in turn has a contract with the regional fire department (which basically means the fire department is no longer voluntary but paid-on-call). At the end of the day, these are just administrative details and in practice part-time and contract firefighters are the same: they both have other daytime jobs, they both receive the same training and the regional fire department provides their PPE, tools and vehicles.
A part-time/contract fire officer can never act as the incident commander; only full-time officers and chiefs are allowed to do that by law. When a part-time/contract rescue unit is alone at the scene, its officer will act as the “on-scene commander”, while one of the chiefs on duty will remotely act as the formal incident commander.
Full-time firefighters in Finland receive their training in the Emergency Services College in the city of Kuopio. Part-time/contract fire fighters participate in a set of courses that are arranged locally and held by full-time firefighters. The SOPs are mostly the same everywhere in Finland, with local variations and adaptions based on the operating environment (fighting a fire in Lapland or on an island in the archipelago is very different from fighting a fire in downtown Helsinki).
A typical rescue unit in Finland is a pumper that carries 2500 – 3000 liters (660 – 790 gallons) of water, an extension ladder, hose, nozzles and different hand tools. Many units also carry the jaws of life, water rescue equipment and/or EMS equipment. Some units carry hazmat equipment as well. The ideal crew size is six, but four is the most common. Even though this is formally the minimum crew size, crews of only three firefighters are unfortunately getting more and more common for various reasons. There is no separation of engine companies and truck companies in Finland. Our aerials are typically manned by one or two firefighters and they often work under the command of a rescue unit.
You can normally find hydrants in the urban areas. The older ones are under ground, whereas the newer ones are inside insulated plastic boxes. The reason for this is the snow and low temperature during the winter. In rural areas, water is provided by tanker units or pumped from natural water sources.
About the Author and his Department
Petter HolmstrÃ¶m is the deputy chief and training officer of the voluntary fire department of Pargas, which is located in the south-west archipelago of Finland. He joined the fire department as a junior at the age of 10 and has been an active member ever since. He is 31 years old, married with three sons, has an M.Sc.Tech. in software engineering and works as a software architect. He belongs to the minority in Finland who speaks Swedish – the second official language of the country.
The fire department has a contract with the Southwest Finland Emergency Services in the city of Turku and responds with a minimum crew of four within 10 minutes of being dispatched.
The fire station is shared with a full-time crew that operates an ambulance, a pumper, a boat and an aerial. The voluntary fire department has its own pumper. In addition, there is a smaller boat and a tanker unit that are operated by both the full-time crew and the contract crew.
The response area is completely surrounded by water and covers a population of about 12 000 people, private dwellings, commercial buildings, apartment buildings (the highest ones are seven stories), some heavy industry, an open-pit mine, fields and forests, farms and lots of small islands that can only be reached by boat. There is also another contract fire department in the response area.
The area is pretty quiet, which means a lot of emphasis is put on training to keep the crews in shape. The full-time crew takes care of most of the calls and the contract units are only dispatched when more than one unit is – or might be – needed to handle the call. In the year 2014, the voluntary fire department of Pargas was only dispatched 39 times, with most of the calls coming in during the summer months of June, July and August.