Finland's Interior Ministry has ordered the country's regional rescue departments to equip their ambulance staff and firefighters with bulletproof vests and helmets as a precaution to meet the rising terrorist threat and the risk of violence.
The reason for this safety measure is the recent risk evaluation by the Interior Ministry, according to which the authorities face more violence than before. The threat of physical harm has also reportedly risen across Europe, including Finland.
"Rescue department staff increasingly often ends up in situations where they face unforeseen violence," Interior Ministry Emergency Service Director General Esko Koskinen told Finnish national broadcaster Yle, citing the deadly stabbings in Turku in August this year as one indication of the increased threat. "Events in Turku are part of the European reality. Now that this has reached Finland, it's our conclusion that we need to be prepared in time," he added.
"There have been several incidents in Europe where uniformed personnel, in particular police staff or members of defense forces, have become targets of a violent attack," Koskinen explained. "We want to be ready in advance if something like that were to happen here," he added.
At present, however, first responder teams at Helsinki's main emergency services station in Kallio already wear anti-stabbing vests. Violent situations reportedly occur on a weekly basis there.
"Recently, emergency staff visited a patient who threatened them with a knife. The staff had to flee to the ambulance and lock the doors. Luckily, it all ended peacefully," Jorma Riihelä of the Helsinki emergency station said.
Emergency department chief Markku Rajamäki of the rescue department of Southwest Finland also argued that the extra protection has been around in ambulances for years, but has rarely proven useful.
"Violent incidents are an exception and come as a surprise," Markku Rajamäki said, as quoted by the Finnish newspaper Vasabladet, pointing that police are always the first to arrive in case of the risk of violence.
"For instance, we can go and check out a call with a reported stomach ache, and suddenly somebody darts out with a knife. We do not prepare for such routine assignments with protective vests and composite helmets. This would make our entire cause quite strange," Rajamäki argued.
Earlier this year, the Finnish Police Dog Training Center announced plans to equip four-legged policemen with body armor, following the incident involving Börje the police dog, who was critically injured while catching a criminal. A relative of the man saved by Börje's timely intervention subsequently made a generous donation to the Finnish Police Dog Training Center, which will be used for purchasing bulletproof vests. In total, Finland's police use the help of about 260 dogs, 85 percent of which are engaged in patrolling.