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Recently I had the opportunity to attend a volunteer station and see how another brigade went about their training and methods. But this was no CFA brigade, as I was in the middle of Germany's wine centre!
I had been invited to Germany by friend and fellow volunteer firefighter Rodney Younger, a British expat living in the small rural town of Flomborn, in the Rhineland-Pflaz region. It's a long way from my brigade at Lovely Banks.
We know each other through Facebook, and we had spent countless hours discussing each other's fire service, with a bit of friendly Aussie v English rivaly thrown in!
The opportunity to travel came around in October, to travel over to Germany for Rodney's 50th birthday and to spend time with his brigade.
I arrived in Flomborn and it wasn't long before I started meeting the local volunteers and began my education into the local fire service. It was a culture shock coming from CFA. Flomborn, and the neighbouring town of Ober-Flörsheim, made up a combined brigade called Freiwillige Feuerwehr Alzey-Land Süd. Unlike CFA, which is run by the state, controlled from one headquarters and supported by regions and districts, Flomborn and Ober-Flörsheim are under the control and support of the district of Alzey-Worms, with the main support coming from the main brigade at Alzey.
The majority of the district's firefighters are volunteers, with only a handful of paid staff. In Germany, it's up to each community to establish and maintain the local brigade. That means all the funding comes from the town, the local council and fundraisers. A very different setup to what I'm use to.
I later learned that 97 per cent of the fire services in Germany are volunteers.
I was taken to Rodney's station at Flomborn and the first thing I noticed was the size. This is the original station built for the town, and the date above the door was mind blowing: 1791.
The brigade has operated from this station since it was built, and it's a tight fit. The brigade can only just fit its two vehicles in the shed, with some creative parking. The brigade has a Mehrzweckfahrzeuge or MZF, which is a multi-purpose vehicle, similar to a brigade support, and a Tragkraftspritzenfahrzeug (TSF for short!), which roughly translated means small engine with portable pump! This vehicle doesn't have a fixed pump, but a pump that's deployed from the vehicle and sited near the hydrant at a fire. That was something that took me by surprise.
The brigade at Ober-Flörsheim also has a MZF and a Löschgruppenfahrzeug katastrophenschutz, or LF which is a light pumper. The size of their vehicles was small and compact, as they have to work in small, narrow medieval-sized streets that can be blocked by a single parked car. They work in what can be only described as very tight places.
I also got to see the main station at Alzey, which had a very impressive truck roster, and a modular containment system that could turn a flatbed truck into a BA van, or a hazmat vehicle or command vehicle just by switching the container module. The guys told me they have the land put aside for a new station for both brigades to move into, and I have to come back for the opening of the new station.
The members of both brigades took me in, and despite the language barrier at times, we were able to learn about each other and our services. I was invited to attend a training session and watched as they conducted training with the pumps and running a ground monitor and a BA exercise.
Through the use of the internet and CFA TV on YouTube, I was able to show the members of the brigade how CFA went about its activities, and the size of our trucks. They were stunned at the fire speeds they saw in a few of the clips, and had trouble comprehending an incident where there was hundreds of trucks!
CFA's YouTube channel impressed them very much, as there is nothing like that for firefighteres in Germany, and they were also amazed and impressed at the information volunteers can see and use in the members section of the CFA website, as again they have nothing like that.
Some of the more technology-minded members of the brigade were soon overheard working out how they could establish their own site. When they saw the way that CFA members train, and with the hot fire container modules, plans were being drawn up right there and then, with people trying to work out who had the welding skills.
They were amazed, impressed and a little jealous of training opportunities that we have. When we were comparing sizes of the two fire services, and I was asked how big CFA was, I responded that we have around 60,000 members. Harold, the Brigade Chief nodded and said that had almost that many in a nearby state where he use to live!
It was a great experience visiting a brigade from another country. My last night in Germany was spent with the guys as they went around Ober-Flörsheim to grease the town's hydrants so that they can be accessed during the winter where they can be snowed and iced over.
It was cold night and we were caught in the rain. We must have looked cold because a local gave us two rounds of schnapps!
We ended the night in the station at Ober-Flörsheim having a few drinks and pizza, and the boys had taken a liking to me as they spoke to me as best they could in English and I was the centre of a few friendly jokes.
We traded a few badges from each service and they gave me an old World War 2 German army helmet that had been converted into a fire helmet. These helemts have only just been replaced by more modern helmets, but still have the same shape.
The guys were friendly and only too happy to have an Aussie firey with them. One of the highlights of the trip was sitting in the pumper, as part of a convoy of vehicles, with lights and sirens delivering Rodney to his 50th birthday party!
I've made some great friends and, with a bit of luck, some of the guys will come out here and see our own stations and trucks and enjoy a bit of time in the South.