Emergency response centre operator awarded for outstanding performance

Publication date 20.4.2023 9.14
News item
Sirpa Moilanen having a speech at the conference, next to a represententative from EENA.

The European Emergency Number Association EENA awarded a Finnish emergency response centre operator for outstanding work in assisting a person that had fallen through the ice in the wilderness. Finland’s emergency response centres are built around the professionalism of ERC operators and cooperation between authorities, and the case demonstrates the effectiveness of this approach.

Poor conditions reduced the chances of survival

In January 2022, a man fell through the ice into a creek while skiing alone in the woods. The nearest settlement was about 15 kilometres away. The temperature outside was -5° C, and the temperature of the water was 4° C. Despite attempts, the caller was unable to pull himself out of the water. However, he managed to use his soaked phone to call the emergency number 112, and the authorities scrambled to try and reach him in time. 

Throughout the rescue operation, which took just under one hour, the ERC operator stayed on the phone with the man and encouraged him to fight against the cold. Unclear location information made the rescue mission extremely challenging. It is nothing short of a miracle that the man was rescued in time. 

Sirpa Moilanen from Oulu Emergency Response Centre received the emergency call in question. She still remembers the situation well after just over a year.

– The caller was alone in the woods in an inaccessible location far from the nearest public road. He was scared, cold, and he knew there was a risk of freezing to death in the icy water. I was his only connection to outside help, so it was important to keep him on the line. These circumstances made the emergency call extraordinary, and every one of us was committed to rescuing the person. I immediately received the necessary support from my coworkers. 

The role of the ERC operator often remains unseen

The ERC played an invaluable part in rescuing the caller. The role of the ERC in emergency situations is often out of public view but in this case, the director of the operation wanted to highlight the role of the ERC operator who handled the call. 

The incident was also widely covered in the media, which praised the ERC for its part in the rescue. Without words of encouragement from the ERC operator, it is unlikely the caller would have been able to keep clinging to life in the ice. While the operator was on the line, the ERC was also working to pinpoint the man’s location and direct rescue services to him. Without the determined actions of the operator who handled the emergency call, rescue services would have started their search in the wrong place.

– It was not clear at first which municipality the call was coming from, and identifying the terrain features described by the caller was challenging. However, we were able to pinpoint the location as soon as the municipality and area could be narrowed down. The shift supervisor in charge of the ERC's operations was extremely supportive and constantly relayed information to rescuers in the field while listening to my conversation with the caller. Rescuers in the area found a parked car similar to the caller's in the opposite direction, and this caused some confusion for a moment. I stood up and shouted that the caller isn't that way, Sirpa recalls.

Technology cannot replace professional ERC operators

In addition to being familiar with authorities' instructions for different types of emergencies and risk assessment criteria, ERC operators also need to have good people skills. The work of operators is supported by a wide range of technical apps and systems, but they do not remove the fact that in times of need, people need another human being by their side. Operators must also be able to accurately and critically apply and review the data produced by the systems.

– I've been doing this job for 20 years, and for the first time a caller made me drop my official demeanour. I felt responsible for his survival and felt I was fighting with him in the race against time. I tried to think about what I could say to help keep him warm and came up with simple exercises – move one arm first, then one leg, and so on.  Once the search party was on the move, I told the caller to shout out for help a few times and then take a break. It was all about taking baby steps.

Sirpa stresses the importance of seamless cooperation between authorities in operations like these. Everyone plays an irreplaceable role in the chain of getting help to people.

– In this case, I felt that the emergency call was a success story shared by all of us. For myself and the entire rescue team, the caller is a hero. My role was to keep hopes of survival alive, to help by all means possible in the race against time and hypothermia, and to direct the authorities to the scene as quickly as possible. Other authorities involved in the rescue also exceeded themselves by running half a kilometre in snowy terrain while carrying medical supplies. Together, we fought to save a life and succeeded, says Sirpa, who was elated to receive the award from EENA.

The award was presented at the EENA Conference & Exhibition 2023 in  Ljubljana, Slovenia on 19.4.2023.

European Emergency Number Association EENA

The European Emergency Number Association (EENA) was established in Brussels in 1999. EENA aims to promote safety and the development of emergency response centre services in Europe. The Association rewards individuals and organisations for significant contributions and achievements in promoting the emergency number, 112. EENA’s members include more than 1500 representatives of organisations related to emergency response operations in 80 countries, researchers, technical suppliers and more than 200 members of the European parliament. 

Previous awards conferred by EENA to the Finnish Emergency Response Centre: 

PSAP Award (Public Safety Answering Points) 2021

The Emergency Response Centre Agency was awarded for its rapid response in connection with the Kuopio school stabbing. The call was responded to in two seconds and referred to the police in under a minute. The police apprehended the perpetrator in just eight minutes after the Emergency Response Centre received the first call for help. 

Outstanding Rescue 2014

In 2014, the Emergency Response Centre Authority and the Finnish Police were rewarded for their effective cooperation and successful rescue of an 8-year-old girl. 

Outstanding National 112 System 2013

In 2013, the Emergency Response Centre Authority won the EENA award, presented by the European Emergency Number Association, in the Outstanding National 112 System category.