The ‘birthday’ of the Estonian Rescue Board is deemed to be 25 May 1992, when the Government of the Republic of Estonia issued a decree on the liquidation of the State Fire Service Board and on the transfer of its assets and functions to the National Rescue Board. This completed the two-year-old reform process for the reorganisation of the Soviet firefighting system, combining the two main autonomous areas in this field: fire protection and civil defence. The Civil Air Defence and the Fire Department, which was established in 1937 and in which the functions of firefighting and civil defence were also united, can be regarded as a distant predecessor of the Estonian Rescue Board in the Republic of Estonia.
To understand the development of the Estonian Rescue Board, we should go back in time further than the year 1992 and take a look at the end of the Soviet period. The management body of firefighting was the Firefighting Administration under the Ministry of the Interior, which was renamed the Fire Fighting Board of the Ministry of the Interior in 1990. Despite the name change, it maintained the organisation’s former structure and working principles. In the civil defence field, a civil defence system was operating under the Chairman of the Council of Ministers of the Estonian SSR, whose governing structure was the Civil Defence Staff of the ESSR, which, in turn, was subordinated to the respective staffs operating at the executive committees of the Congress of People’s Deputies of the districts and under the authority of the Republic. The Cold War-era civil defence organisation had, by that time, exhausted its capacities as the focus of civil defence has shifted from military dangers to crisis management and eliminating of the consequences of a disaster, which, in turn, has led to extensive rescue-related reforms throughout the world. One of the first steps was joining civil defence to the firefighting department in Sweden in 1986; the Swedish experience continued to play an important part in the reorganisation of the Estonian civil defence system in the early 1990s.
At the meeting of the Committee of Emergency Situations of the Government of the Republic of Estonia on 22 October 1990, the initial vision of the Rescue Service concept was presented, which was also approved in principle. It was also the first document to introduce the term ‘rescue service’. After corrections and approvals, it was approved on 4 December 1991 by the Government of the Republic. Based on the new principles, the National Rescue Board of the Republic of Estonia was established on the basis of the Civil Defence Staff with the Government of the Republic Regulation of 10 September 1991.
Although the Rescue Board was set up as a legal entity for the performance of civil defence tasks on 10 September 1991, the Estonian Rescue Board in its present sense was formed on 25 May 1992, when civil protection, firefighting, and rescue operations were combined.
During the first year of operation, the focus lay on the development of a new central authority. An important challenge in the decades that followed was the development of legislation governing the field’s activities. This started already in 1990. The first law to enter into force was the Civil Protection Act in 1992 and the first Rescue Act of the Republic of Estonia came into force in 1994 (the currently valid Rescue Act was adopted in 2012). A number of changes have also been made to the structure of the Estonian Rescue Board. The last major restructuring took place at the beginning of 2012, as the Emergency Response Centre was transformed into an independent government agency within the area of government of the Ministry of the Interior, and the Northern, Southern, Eastern, and Western rescue centres, which previously belonged to area of government of the Estonian Rescue Board, were merged under the unified management of the Estonian Rescue Board.