The fire fighting organisation in Germany is split into professional fire fighters and voluntary fire brigades. Most larger towns and cities are organised with a contingency of full-time, professional fire men who may get called out many times a day. Added to this large manufacturing companies like chemical plants or, for instance, large airports, where they is a great risk of fire also entertain their own works fire brigade.
Smaller towns and villages, where the number of calls are relatively low, rely on their voluntary fire brigade which is manned by part-time fire men who spend a lot of their spare time maintaining the equipment and, above all, training regularly. This fire fighting organisation depends on being able to draw on enough volunteers willing and capable of doing the job, whenever it may occur. Through this most such fire brigades offer their facilities to the youth of the area, hoping that they, one day, will also become well trained fire men and women. These voluntary fire brigades are the ultimate responsibility of and financed by their local council (i.e. supported by the tax-payer). Hence the local mayor is the boss of each fire-brigade.
The first noted fire brigade on a voluntary basis within the present borders of Germany is that of Saarlouis in 1811, which was formed out of a fire fighting company. At the time Saarlouis was part of France. The first fire brigade formed on German soil according to today’s understanding of being voluntary was that of Meissen (the famous porcelain town in Saxony) in 1841. This became the model for practically all other voluntary fire brigades throughout Germany.
In 1846 followed Heidelberg and Durlach (nr. Karlsruhe) and many more. At the time an innovative Heidelberg engineer called Karl Metz developed and manufactured new types of fire fighting pumping systems. The co-founder of the Metz company called Christian Hengst founded the VFB in Durlach and came to fame in 1847 by successfully fighting a large fire in Karlsruhe using a newly constructed fire pump called the “Stadtspritze No. 2”.
In the early days the fire fighting equipment required muscle strength to use. Hence most of these fire brigades were founded through ambitious members of sports and gymnastics societies who were also able to provide the required level of fitness.
Looking back on more than a century of tradition and technical innovations the voluntary fire brigade has long taken its place in the life of a typical German town and village forming a part of the complete fire fighting and rescue organisation of both voluntary as well as professional (paid) brigades.
The fire fighting activities have changed a lot since the times of open fires and thatched roofs. Today the fire brigade has to cope more with the consequences of other accidents, especially involving road traffic and also avoiding damage to the environment after a road accident or a fire. Hence the training and equipment has been adapted over the years. A modern fire engine now carries a lot more equipment than just for fighting a fire.
Never-the-less, the German fire brigade can always count on the assistance of the German Red-Cross (or equivalent) in cases of injury or danger of life and where specialised or heavy equipment is needed also on the rescue organisation called THW (Technisches Hilfswerk = technical support team) who also have a range of heavy plant. Of the course the German police is always present when people have been injured, fowl play suspected or traffic needing to be diverted etc.
What makes the German voluntary fire brigade so different to most other organisations is the fact that practically all towns and villages boast one and all are fitted with the necessary equipment required or even only recommended by the local and national fire brigade organisations. Also it is almost always supported by the local population and by the local fire brigade society, which helps finance equipment and the activities of their fire station. The local fire men are always very present in their towns due to their regular training activities and, of course, due to their annual festivities which attract local participation.
Due to the spread of the outlying villages, farms and hamlets Lauteral still has seven VFB. Each having their own voluntary fire chief and team of volunteers together with a fire station and fire fighting/rescue equipment, with Reichenbach being the largest town and having the greatest amount of resources.
Basically our local voluntary fire brigade is, as with many others, split into 3 major parts or departments:
- Active members (the fire fighters) who train and form the main part of the fire brigade.
- Juveniles who also train and take part in competitions and will hopefully become active members.
- Passive members who are paying members of the local benevolent fire brigade society. With their membership fees and activities during the year they help finance extra projects within the fire brigade.
As already mentioned, the actual fire brigade itself is financed through public taxes via the local council with the mayor being the ultimate chief of that fire brigade. This funding pays for the building and mandatory equipment and running costs. As with all public spending the council has only limited resources that are put to use as best. Therefore there is a necessity for external (financial) support. This is done through the society that is directly connected to the fire brigade, which is able to finance further requirements and also promote the activities of the juveniles, who, at the age of 18 (in Hesse), can then be promoted into the active team of fire fighters. The period of active service usually ends at the age of 60 or 65 years.
The promotion of juvenile activities within the framework of the fire brigade is very important but, unfortunately, general interest is diminishing. To add to this dilema employers are generally no longer willing to support the spirit of voluntary fire-fighters. Hence many volunteer fire-fighters are no longer allowed to leave their workplace at the sound of the fire siren and fight fires or rescue the injured and save lives!
©2009 Written by Johnny Glover