In addition to professional rescue workers and police officers, the security in Estonia is also ensured by the residents themselves. Volunteers carry out preventive work, contribute to the work of the rescue service and the police, and promote activities of societies in their communities.
Volunteer rescue workers, assistant police officers, members of the neighbourhood watch and other activists, participating in the network covering the whole of Estonia, supplement the work of professional rescue workers and law enforcement services, serves as a link between the community and national security services, and help to respond and prevent accidents and breaches of law and order.
Irreplaceable and inexhaustible input to the creation of security is ensured by such volunteers as: volunteer rescue workers in rescue associations, assistant police officers in police divisions, volunteer maritime lifeguards in maritime rescue associations, members of the neighbourhood watch in neighbourhoods, and many others, whose activities enliven their communities.
In order to promote volunteer activities concerning internal security, the Ministry of the Interior together with different offices supports associations and activities of volunteers financially, creates a supportive legal environment, and recognises model activists and actions aimed at the creation of security.
Volunteer rescue workers
The tradition of volunteering in the field of rescue goes a long way back and contributes significantly both to the ensuring of the sense of security in the community and the functioning of the whole rescue system.
Since volunteers know the local environment very well, they can respond to accidents quickly, and reduce or even completely prevent the damage.
Contribution of volunteer rescuers is increasing
By the end of 2015, there were 115 volunteer rescue stations in Estonia, and their number has been increasing every year. In addition to the reserve rescue units in Harju County, western Estonia and Tartu, a reserve rescue unit has started operating in the Viru region. Currently, over 2,200 people are involved in volunteer rescue organizations, and the volunteer rescue service in Estonia is rapidly moving forward. By the end of 2015, we had almost three times as many certified volunteer rescue personnel as in 2012: 1,768 compared to 640.
In 2015, volunteer rescue stations were opened in Rannu (Ida-Viru County), Tabasalu and Tõdva (Harju County), Tõrvandi (Tartu County), Imavere and Väätsa (Järva County) and on Kesselaid and Vilsandi islands (Saare County). Kesselaid, Vilsandi, Imavere and Rannu are areas a professional rescue team takes at least 15 minutes to reach. Thanks to volunteer rescue personnel, help is increasingly close by.
National future trends
We consider it necessary to support and increase the sustainability of volunteer rescue operations – expanding the scope of volunteer activities, greater involvement of volunteers in prevention activities and improving the image of the volunteer rescue service.
In 2016, the preparation of the strategic document “National Trends in the Development of Volunteer Rescue 2017–2020” will start to establish a national plan for the volunteer rescue service. The main objective of the strategy approved by the Minister of the Interior is to develop the voluntary rescue service into a network uniting people from all walks of life and covering all of Estonia to increase security in society and promote a community culture in cooperation with professional rescue personnel and other partners. This document continues on from the already effective “National Trends in the Development of Volunteer Rescue 2013–2016”.
Support and recognition
Volunteer rescue personnel are also important partners for local governments and companies, who contribute to increasing the sense of security in the area and promoting community life by supporting volunteers.
In recent years, the state’s financial support of volunteer rescue personnel has significantly increased. The direct support of volunteer rescue initiatives from the budget of the Estonian Rescue Board in 2015 constituted 1.3 million euros, supplemented by other project grants. Our objective continues to include finding additional financial resources (e.g. project grants or external assistance grants from the European Union budget for 2014–2020) to promote the development of the volunteer rescue services.
In addition, equipment, gear and other aids will be provided to volunteers, depending on availability.
Each year the Minister of the Interior recognizes the volunteer unit of the year and the volunteer supporter of the year, where the latter can be a local government, a private company or another organisation that has contributed to increasing security in society and the development of volunteer activities to enhance local security.
Assistant police officers
Assistant police officers are volunteer enforcers of public order, who perform police functions assigned to them in their free time.
Assistant police officers perform a variety of tasks that include patrolling, ensuring public order, preventive work, traffic supervision and detection of IT-related offences.
Assistant police officers to every community
In 2014, the Estonian system of assistant police officers celebrated its 20th birthday. Within these years the number of volunteer law enforcement members has been growing steadily. The most noticeable growth spurt happened in 2007 and 2008, when many new members wanted to contribute in case the events similar to those in April 2007 were to occur again. The following years were relatively peaceful, and the reserve of assistant police officers decreased.
At the same time, assistant police officers became more active. In 2014, 610 assistant police officers participated in police activities, doing a total of 79,360 hours of voluntary work. This is equal to the number of working hours of an average police division.
New possibilities for volunteers
In 2014, the Ministry of the Interior, the Police and Border Guard Board and the Estonian Assembly of Assistant Police Officers together prepared proposals for the amendment of the Assistant Police Officer Act, which were adopted by the Riigikogu in spring 2015 as a law. According to the amendment to the Act, voluntary activities of the police are open to a larger number of interested persons – the procedure of becoming an assistant police officer was simplified, and the study procedure was made more flexible. For example, the persons wishing to become assistant police officers who have a weapons permit and a driver’s licence, as well as those who want to participate only in preventive work of the police, no longer need to pass a medical examination. Additionally, the previous study and work experience of voluntary applicants are taken into consideration during training to a larger extent.
Voluntary maritime rescue workers
The number of maritime rescue events is growing
Over the past few years the number of maritime rescue and search operations has grown. The number of persons who had an accident and the persons who were saved has also grown. For example, in 2014 570 persons had accidents in water bodies.
Today, there are 29 contractual maritime rescue associations at all locations of the Estonian coast. Voluntary maritime rescue workers help to find and save people, ships, aircrafts and other vehicles that get in a dangerous situation or go missing on waters.
Associations of voluntary maritime rescue workers are united by non-profit associations MTÜ Päästeliit (Rescue Association) and MTÜ Eesti Vabatahtlik Mere- ja Järvepääste (Estonian Maritime Rescue Organisation).
In order to participate in maritime rescue operations a person must pass a 60-hour maritime rescue training, upon completion of which the person receives a certificate confirming the maritime rescue training has been passed.
The funds of the budget of the Police and Border Guard Board are used to compensate for communication and fuel expenses related to maritime rescue operations, and in addition to that associations receive support in the form of repair of watercrafts and purchase of maritime rescue equipment.