Helsinki, a city of 500,000 inhabitants, is served by a two-tiered emergency medical system with basic emergency medical technicians in ordinary ambulances and one physician-staffed prehospital emergency care unit. All 266 patients with prehospital cardiopulmonary resuscitation during 1987 were studied. Two hundred twelve patients with presumed heart disease and a witnessed arrest were analyzed further. Their response times for basic life support and advanced life support were 5.5 and 10.7 minutes, respectively. The initial cardiac rhythm in 144 patients (68%) was ventricular fibrillation. In 79 of these patients, cardiopulmonary resuscitation was successful, and 39 patients (27%) were discharged from hospital. The patients who survived had shorter response times for basic life support and their arrest locations was more often outside home, compared with the nonsurvivors. The results seem comparable with emergency medical systems in the United States, but a need to reduce response times is identified.