Weeeehwww, what a weekend…
But, as promised, at least a short introduction into the ‘average German’ situation.
Germany has a couple off differencies and, ehm, little problems with the wildland-situation. Actually, the disasters in Portugal last year seem to encourage a little change and more ‘open ears’ - but…
The German fire departments are, by 98%, volunteer departments - and nearly no ‘wildland program’ exists! At least absolutely nothing on any larger scale. Some counties, especially in eastern Germany, the most wildfire-prone part, have small scale concepts, but that’s it.
I researched a bit: in the 138.000 square miles Germany experiences an annual average of about (depending on weather) 800 to 2500 ‘forest fires’. There is no statistical data about vegetation fires which not involve forests, but… In my home community alone (3 square miles, 11.000 pps) we had in a record year far over a hundred little fires.
After all research and my personal experience, the absolute strenght of our system here is, that almost all fires get caught fast - oftentimes with only the handfull of the first first-responders. Single-digit acres are the normal.
Officially, in 2017, the total of burned forests is at 975 acres with 424 fires. Unofficially there are the many thousand vegetation-fires (on source tells about 8000 in average).
The actual fire in Brandenburg, the wildfire-capitol region of Germany, shows some of the shortcomings: The fire isn’t mapped completely - the count in the media varies between 740 and 990 acres. It took 3000 firefighters (including support-personel, police, army, federal heavy rescue, contractors…), 8 of them were injured.
The other big difference: every fire in ‘good ol’ Germany’ has to be out, completly cold in the full acerage, before beeing declared ‘completly controlled’. The principle of the cold edge stays, but it has to be cold thoughout. Which leads to the next little ‘complications’: Many fire departments are simply not trained or allowed to fell trees - this takes at least some bureaucracy. This simple fact makes access even more complicated… This is followed by layers of duff, 2-3 feet deep and a strict adversion against any ‘chemicals’ - i.g. water-enhancers due to environmental concerns.
Germany misses an ‘hard’ defined system in the Incident Management. There are published and accepted ‘common standards of leadership and guidance’ and some elements of coordination on state and federal level, but nearly no ‘unpolitical’ ‘command and control system’ - starting with the avoidance of such hard terms like ‘command and control’ due to political correctness. At least 95% of the workload sticks with the local/regional IC, what I would compare to an ICS level of 4 to a max of 3. Everything else has to be improvised or goes through public bureaucracy, with politicians involved. In some regions this system works well, but not in all.
Technically the fire-departments miss nearly all formal training in wildland-firefighting. There is no provision in the FF-trainings. Everything else is local initiative, experience, small groups or single persons standing up and reaching out. The fire-protection schema in Germany is nearly strictly watersource-tied. Pump and roll is not implemented in almost all engines, tenders are nearly unknown, the trend in the fireservice is to buy ‘Pumper-Engines’ with relatively small tanks (200-400 gallons) but heavily packed with all the other tools of the trade (sometimes, US 'Rescue-Engines remind me of them), extrication equipment and so on - makes for many heavy, 2WD engines. ‘Tanker-Engines’ are spread out, mainly 500-1000 gallons, but these ressources come often from different local authorities and miss the ineroperability-training. Handtools for wildland-firefighting are not so usual… Add the common problem of avialability of volunteer-personel at daytime, employers and declining numbers of volunteers, on this side of the pond exactly the same as on yours.
PPE is the other story in this: In Europe, there is a specified standard for PPE - but this standard (EN 469) doesn’t mention wildland-firefighting. Nearly every region has more or less different opinions about this, but the ‘gold-standard’ seems to be to fight in complete structural turnouts. The standard would allow for an ‘underlayer’ which would bee flame-resistant single layer, but often isn’t complete, many departments only issue the trousers as work-uniform, but not the jackets. So, what you see in the different pictures and videos is often FFs with this trouser and a T-Shirt. Helmets is the next on the list: The European Standard for firefighting demands for high thermal protection and these helmets are the common, relatively heavy, helmets - which are often simply not worn in wildland-firefighting. The existing European standard for wildland-firefighting is simply often not even known
Next chapter: Hoses! The German standard-hoses and principles are: From pump to three-way divider with an 3", from there on 2" (sometimes 1" and 3/4) to nozzles with at least 50 to 100 gpm. There is an brand new german national standard which would require 2" from the pump to divider followed by 1" hose with nozzles at 20-60 gpm, but this standard isn’t widely accepted, bought (cost’s money) and used.
I was on one of the “little” forest-fires here in our region and wonderd ab bit: FFs with SCBA in structural turnouts pulling filled and heavy 3" hoses into the trees in the summerheat . These poor folks were worn out to the ground in less then 20 minutes - and IC was still wondering what went wrong… Even the challange to get enough water on scene fast enough was gruelsome. No pumpkins - which means, every time one tank is down, they had to chance the engine because stoping the waterflow was faster than refilling the tanker from another one… It took 3 days for 0,05 acres. OK, but in this special case, the regional equivalent of the EPA was strongly opposed to disturbing the soil with mechanical equipment or even handtools… U see the different enemies?
All together, it’s fast and very early response, small distances, courageously local FDs/FFs and the perfect improvisation every time. In many areas even a ‘tied link’ to the forresters isn’t even established. Man, have we been lucky in the last couple of years. Now, we are in at least the second year of a drought, gradually there is more initiative, mostly on local or regional levels. As usual, nearly independent from the fire service, there is some movement in prevention, but this is regional / county - and not an coordinated effort.
Enough of this… In my next post I’ll go over the ‘famous’ fire in the state of Brandenburg - and hope to gather more facts. Media coverage isn’t quite good…