GRAFENWOEHR, Germany — Seven fire fighters employed with U.S. Army Garrison Bavaria provided volunteer support and humanitarian aid to the city of Altenahr, from July 24 to 28. The Rheinland-Pfalz area experienced catastrophic flooding in July, which resulted in village-wide property damages and citizen death.
When Rheinland-Pfalz leadership reached out for emergency assistance, Bavarian State fire departments found the right volunteers and received employer approval to discharge them from their regular work. The employer would later receive reimbursed from the State of Bavaria.
“This was a quick decision,” said Tobias Zwicker, assistant fire chief of USAG Bavaria. “We called Col. Christopher Danbeck, the USAG Bavaria Garrison Commander, for his approval and got a thumb up right away, if we could also ensure the safety of the USAG Bavaria footprint.”
To accommodate the work load on-post work schedules were changed and co-workers, who were supposed to be off, jumped in to fill the gap. According to Zwicker, the willingness to help out was extremely high.
With schedules rearranged at USAG Bavaria, seven garrison fire fighters joined the rescue efforts. The garrison fire department also provided some equipment for the mission.
In addition to USAG Bavaria fire fighter duties, three volunteer with the Grafenwoehr Fire Department, three with the Eschenbach Fire Department, and one with the Kirchenthumbach Fire Department.
Alex Richter was one of the fire fighters on the mission. Currently, he is the station chief of the USAG Bavaria Airfield Fire Station and the commandant of the off-post volunteer Grafenwoehr Fire Station. He began his career 30 years ago at 16-years-old, while volunteering for the local fire department. Now, he has over 20 years experience as a fire fighter with the U.S. Army.
“This was the toughest mission I’ve ever had in my life as a fire fighter,” said Richter.
Due to the flooding, citizens of Altenahr and the surrounding county suffered greatly. Approximately 42,000 people of a 56,000 population are affected. There are now 17,000 homeless people, because the flooding washed away 467 buildings and over 3,000 buildings are damaged. Furthermore, 766 people were injured, over 140 people died and some are still not identified.
During the support mission, Richter said that tasks were very versatile. Mud disposal, drinking water provision, building a fence around a cemetery, investigation tasks and a traffic accident were just some of the duties.
“You always have to expect dead bodies at work, but thank God our team didn’t,” said Richter.
The seven garrison fire fighters joined the Oberpfalz team, which consisted of nearly 100 fire fighters and 20 vehicles from 15 stations. These volunteer fire fighters — all with intensive training — were a big advantage for the rescue mission overall, as official first responders and volunteers worked hand-in-hand together.