Toni Alatalo

Instructor
Emergency Services College, Finland

“The Emergency Services College is the only institute in Finland that trains Emergency Response Centre (ERC) operators. Here in Finland, it’s quite a unique system, as we have one operator who takes care of everything in an emergency. That means, taking calls, making decisions, giving guidance and sending the correct resources to the emergency. All of that by one person, taking care of emergencies for all services. And our job at the college is to train these people.

I’ve been working here for over 6 years and before that I worked as an operator and shift supervisor for the ERC. So, I know how it feels to go through this training programme. You must be very involved in this field to teach it. And to be able to say that you know the real situations that can come up on the phone. I don’t know how I could teach this if I hadn’t done the work for myself. It’s such a unique, difficult and tough job, so you have to understand it very well.

There is one call I remember from being an operator at the ERC. Someone called saying a drunk person had fallen off their bicycle. I had a hunch that it didn’t sound like someone who was drunk. I followed the protocols and asked why they thought the person was drunk. It turned out that the person was severely ill and had had a stroke. That was the reason it was difficult to understand what they were saying.

From then on, I truly understood the importance of following the guidelines and not just going along with the caller’s conclusions. The students I teach now need to understand why they ask certain questions and why they make a certain decision.

It’s always inspiring to see how the students learn and to witness the moment when they suddenly understand something. When you see those lamps lighting over their heads. By the end of their training, they see the whole picture, and that inspires me. The exams are tough and demanding. Not everyone passes first time, but when they do, we instructors are so happy and proud.

I admire our system here in Finland. It’s very unique. We have a tight curriculum which takes about a year and a half to complete. A lot of the training uses simulations and we are really proud of that. We teach by doing, not by being talking heads in the classroom. I admire all my colleagues in my team, they do an outstanding job really from the heart, with such high values.

Emergencies have always been and will always occur, they don’t go away. The world changes and the kind of emergencies we face changes, but I think this field will always be needed. I don’t see a future where ERCs are totally automated. I think we’ll always need the human touch.”

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