NCO firefighter ties together German and American community
July 1, 2009
GRAFENWOEHR, Germany -- After 22 years of service, U.S. Army Master Sgt. Carl Childs is once again a private.
"At my level, they keep it pretty simple with me," Childs said.
He has spent most of his life protecting and defending the Constitution and the people of the United States as an Active Duty, Reserve and now Arizona National Guard Soldier. Now, that same selfless service and dedication carries through to his new position as Volunteer Firefighter for the city of Mantel, Germany.
"This is my third time in Germany. I didn't want to be one of those Americans who comes home [from work], goes in their house and closes the door," he said "I wanted to do something that would involve my family, and make the experience one we would never forget."
He really wanted to be involved in the community, said Childs. Now, he laughs at how he became a firefighter.
Nearly two years ago, He attended a Bavarian festival - honoring the 140th anniversary of the Mantel Fire Department, along with his wife and three daughters.
"I saw these guys with these red polo shirts on, and I asked how I could get one," he laughed. "They said you have to be a fireman, so I asked how, and when, and the next thing you know I was donning a suit."
Along with the suit came many new challenges. First - Childs had to learn everything that a firefighter needs to know: tying knots, working with hoses, learning the fire apparatuses and other basic skills. And then, there was working through the language barrier.
"We never had someone on our fire brigade who did not speak German," said Stefan Lippik, Mantel's Deputy Fire Chief. "It was very interesting."
Lippik said having Childs on the department was a way for his firefighters to practice the English language.
"We improved our English, he improved his German."
Senior Firefighter Willi Kraus agreed.
"Every kid (in Germany) learns English in school from the fifth grade up," he said. "Most of the people on the fire department are mostly 20 to 25-years-old, and it's been more than 10 years , since they spoke English. So, speaking to Carl brings back all the words and sentences and things."
In addition to helping improve the firefighter's English, having Childs as a member of the department is also beneficial to the community. More than 30 American Families now live in Mantel, located about 13 kilometers from the Joint Multinational Training Command in Grafenwoehr.
Having Childs on the department, Kraus said, eases emergency situations in which Americans are involved.
Childs said he is glad to help all members of the Mantel community of all nationalities, but as an noncommissioned officer, he is most concerned about the young Soldiers arriving in Europe for the first time, and living off post in his community.
"You could poll a hundred Soldiers and ask them 'what is the number you would dial here if you had an emergency''" he said. "Automatically people are going to think 9-1-1, which that's not it. Over here, it's 1-1-2."
Childs said his plan is to bring all new American Families in Mantel to the fire department and teach them the differences between German and American emergency equipment - such as fire extinguishers - as well as to give them safety classes that would normally only be offered in German.
"I hope it will be a big community event," he said. "I'll take the military leadership role on that, as a master sergeant trying to wear two hats."
In addition to bridging the gap between American and German households in Mantel, Childs also hopes to use his position as a Reserve Component Liaison for the JMTC to his advantage.
"My next quest is to try to get the fire department here and the department on Graf to do some type of combined training, not only with the fire department but the air field," Childs said. "I'd like to see some type of mock accident scenario - and with my ties to the base, I think that might be a good training event."
Firefighter Kraus looks forward to that day.
"It's like a forbidden land in there," he said. "It would be great just to see how things happen there, what are the dangers, what type of equipment they use for emergencies."
Along with Kraus, Childs is petitioning the Mayor of Mantel to lower the speed limit on their street to protect the American and German children who live and play there. He said as the community grows with more Americans, it is their responsibility to make changes for the better.
"If you're a Soldier who is going to be stationed abroad, make sure you come over with an open mind," he said. "Don't get stuck on the American ways ... make sure you get out and enjoy everything that Germany has to offer, and your experience will be unbelievable."