Rescued from the sea

Joonas Brandt / Finnish Red Cross
Joonas Brandt / Finnish Red Cross

If a passenger ferry ran aground today, all help would be needed. One of the most important tasks of the volunteers of the Finnish Red Cross is to support the evacuees mentally in case of major disasters.

– Welcome ashore! What’s your name?
A young boy smiles at the volunteer in a red vest shyly. He has just arrived at the jetty with a rescue boat with his mother and big sister. Three-year-old Luka, his big sister Erica and mother Laura Liimatainen have just been rescued from a grounded waterbus at an evacuation drill of the Finnish Red Cross and the Finnish Lifeboat Institution on Bågaskär, Inkoo. 
Red Cross volunteers meet the family on the shore. They take photographs of Luka and his family and write down their information in order to ensure that everyone who boarded the rescue boat is safe. 
After a while, Luka decides that it’s safe to say his name. He whispers it to his mother.

The Finnish Red Cross prepares for major maritime disasters

The Finnish Red Cross is part of rescue plans that involve several authorities and make preparations for major maritime disasters.
The worst maritime disaster in Finland was the sinking of MS Estonia in autumn 1994. 852 lives were lost in the disaster. If two passenger ships were to collide, the number of people in need of rescue could be several thousand.
It is impossible to practice rescue operations at this scale. However, the duties of the Red Cross volunteers remain more or less the same regardless of the scale: providing food, shelter, first aid and mental support in cooperation with the authorities. 
The volunteers also help with practical matters, such as writing down personal information, sharing information and organising transportation, among other things.
Leena Kämäräinen, Head of National Preparedness at the Finnish Red Cross, was part of the rescue team of the Estonia disaster. She tells us that first aid is made up of fairly simple things.
– When people have encountered a disaster, they need basic things to move along: someone who listens, food, a toothbrush and contacting loved ones.

Treating the rescued with respect

Meanwhile, Laura Liimatainen and her family have entered the evacuation centre. Luka and Erica are busy filling out puzzle books while they wait for the salmon soup. 
The family participates in the drill as people who need rescuing, also known as targets. Liimatainen is familiar with her role: she is also a Finnish Red Cross volunteer, and this is not her first rescue drill. However, this is the first time she has taken her children with her.
– We have been treated as a unit of three people since the beginning. We were among the first to board the rubber boat, and someone has offered us a helping hand at every turn, for example to help the children to and from the boat, Liimatainen says. 
– My role as the mother was taken into account, and the children were addressed as appropriate for their age.
Leena Kämäräinen says that respect and mental support are an important part of the help provided by the Finnish Red Cross. Traditionally, first aid has been at the core of the association’s expertise, but people who are not physically hurt also need help.
– The Finnish Red Cross started developing mental support models after the Estonia disaster. Estonia made us realise that disasters of this scale are also possible within Finnish borders.

If an accident happened now

The Finnish Red Cross has improved and strengthened its preparedness from the days of MS Estonia. Local Red Cross organisations have made preparedness plans and agreed on cooperation with both local and national authorities.
Joint rescue exercises such as the Bågaskär evacuation drill are held regularly.  If a maritime accident were to happen now, hundreds of volunteers would be needed.
– Volunteers are irreplaceable in major disasters: the authorities are unable to manage operations of this scale on their own, Leena Kämäräinen says.
– The Red Cross helps with practical matters, but our most important task is to be there and listen.