Editor’s Note: Broadcom Foundation established the annual Broadcom Global Community Heroes program to recognize civic engagement and volunteer contributions of Broadcom employees throughout the globe. Each year, the Broadcom Foundation Board of Directors honors these employees with a foundation gift to a qualified charity in their honor. In this series on the blog, we’ll profile each Community Hero to share stories about their interests and work benefiting their communities around the world.
Kalle Tuulos, who hails from Salo, Finland, has been a member of the Southwest Finland Search and Rescue (SAR) Dogs Association (Varsinais-Suomen Pelastuskoirat Ry) since 2006. A part of Finnish voluntary SAR service, the association trains SAR dogs and their handlers to assist in search-and-rescue missions, which happen as much as 10 times per year. Both dogs and handlers are trained on a wide range of skills, including first aid, communication and navigation.
Below is an edited interview.
What inspired you to get involved with your current charity?
I became interested in working with search-and-rescue dogs after 9/11 when there were lots of pictures and articles about the dogs in action. I joined the Finnish voluntary SAR service in 2007 and started training with my dog Dilbert, a Rottweiler. As my experience grew, I got more responsibilities and I’m now training a second dog, Trillian.
What is the voluntary SAR service?
The Finnish voluntary SAR service, Vapaaehtoinen Pelastuspalvelu, or Vapepa is a unique organization. Finland has vast forests, fields and other remote areas, so volunteers have always been crucial to SAR missions. Vapepa was founded in 1964 when it became clear that volunteers needed advanced training and coordinated efforts.
Today, Vapepa has more than 20,000 trained volunteers, organized in 1,200 SAR teams. In 2013, Vapepa saved the lives of 128 people, which is a large number for Finland, which has a relatively small population (5.4 million).
Teams have various focuses, for example, first aid, ground search operations, oil spill cleanup, road assistance and SAR dogs. When a person is missing, the local police have the overall responsibility for the search and call Vapepa when they need additional resources. Calls occur usually at night, and volunteers are ready to be dispatched to an SAR mission in less than three hours from the first call from police.
What surprised you most about your work with the group?
For many activities, there are weather limits. You can cancel if it’s raining. But when you’re training for SAR activities, weather is just part of the exercise, and you need to be prepared for any circumstance. So, I have found myself lying in a forest in the pouring rain, waiting for the dog to work.
There are also cases of people who are reported missing but they’re not really lost. Sometimes people are found from a closet in their own home, or they have just jumped to a train heading northern Finland without notifying their relatives.
What do you most look forward to when working with the group?
While I never hope for someone to go missing, I do look forward to the missions. They offer a chance to put our training and skills to work. When we are called in, it means someone is in immediate danger and all of us are willing to do whatever needs to be done in order to find and rescue the missing person.
Where do you see the greatest impact in the community from the work this group is doing?
SAR dogs save lives. Already during first three months of 2014, voluntary SAR dog teams have found two missing persons in the Turku area.
SAR dogs are usually the first teams sent to any search operation. Dogs are especially good for searching for large areas, or complex areas like storage structures or buildings with lots of hiding places. Dogs are able to detect humans even behind locked doors or through small ventilation shafts.
What would you like to accomplish with your work next year?
I have three goals for 2014.
First, I’m working to get Trillian to the trainee level in our local SAR dog team. It takes three to four years of training for a dog to be ready for SAR missions. We still need to pass three exams (two in forested areas, one in ruin) in order to achieve this level.
Second, I’m in training to become an SAR instructor, which is coordinated nationwide by Finnish Red Cross.
I’m also on a SAR mission leader “career path.” A mission leader has responsibility over the entire voluntary SAR mission operation, including human and dog SAR teams. Right now, I work mostly as a dog team leader, and once I have been assigned as an acting SAR mission leader.
Share with us a favorite story about your work. What made the experience so rewarding?
In 2012, I worked on an SAR mission as a dog team leader, which meant that in cooperation with the SAR mission leader, I sent dog patrols in their own search areas.
The SAR mission leader had to temporarily leave mission command, and he assigned me as the acting mission leader until he returned. While he was away, SAR teams returned from their first search areas without having found the search target. It was my responsibility to plan for new search areas. I sent those teams to the new areas and after only 15 minutes or so, one of teams radioed to command center. They had found the missing person, in weak condition but alive. This was the first time a person was found as a result of my decision on where to assign the SAR team. This success was so rewarding, it motivated me to train to become an SAR mission leader.
To see all of the Broadcom Global Community Heroes, visit the Broadcom Foundation website.