Finland — The cooperation readiness of the Finnish and Russian rescue authorities was put to a test on Tuesday, in a joint forest fire exercise. The drill took place in a felling clearing in Parikkala’s Uukuniemi, just on the Finnish side of the border. In the so-called “Operation Huttumalja”, over three hectares of the Huttumaljankangas heathland were burned off. Through the smoke firemen’s voices could be heard both in Finnish and Russian. The scenario behind the drill was a forest fire in Finland near the Russian border, for which fire rescue assistance was requested from the Russian authorities.
In addition to rescue officials, the Finnish and the Russian border guard detachments also took part in the forest fire exercise in Parikkala.
Rescue superintendent Einari Kapiainen from the Province of Southern Finland observed the advancing of the flames with great interest, together with Vladimir Kirillov, chairman of the committee responsible for justice and security affairs in the Leningrad Region in Russia. “We want to sort out all the possible shortcomings now, in order to maximise our cooperation potential in real emergencies”, Kapiainen explains.
The border region rescue officials have taken part in regular cooperation exercises since 2000. In addition to forest fires, the exercises have also covered traffic accidents and oil spill disasters. “In six years we have accumulated plenty of useful cooperation experience on a practical level”, Kirillov confirms. According to Kirillov, there is still room for development for example in the firemen’s professional skills and in the precision of the chain of command. “But the main thing here is that we keep on practicing”, Kirillov points out. Firemen from the Finnish rescue departments of Southern Karelia, Southern Savo, and Northern Karelia, accompanied by Russian firemen from the rescue departments of the Leningrad Region and the Republic of Karelia, all took part in the drill. In addition to putting out the fire, the exercise included the testing of a common emergency messaging system between the Finnish and the Russian authorities, the unfettered crossing of the border in emergency situations, communication at the scene, and cooperation between the emergency response centres. Kapiainen hopes that the similar kind of seamless cooperation could be established between the cities of Imatra and Svetogorsk that already exists, for example, between the Finnish city of Tornio and its Swedish neighbour Haparanda. “In an emergency, help should come from where it is fastest available, without the border presenting a hitch”, he argues.
Nobody can doubt the topicality of such drills. In the last year there have been over 1,600 brush and forest wildfires in Finland, with one third of them forest fires. Over 200 hectares of forest have gone up in flames. This May, which was a dryish month, saw twice as many fires as in 2005. Around 13 per cent of Finnish forest fires are caused by lightning. Humans are responsible for the remainder. Recently there have been numerous wildfires raging on the Russian side of the border, which have lowered air quality readings in towns across south-eastern Finland.