Community Service

What’s that smell?
Baiersdorf--Monday, March 26th

Oh no! I had turned the stove on full blast and went back to my computer. I forgot all about my husband’s dinner! Grey smoke billows up the stairway. My eyes sting as I run down the steps. I grab a big towel from the bathroom, hold it in front of my nose and peek around the doorway into the kitchen. Flames shoot out of the hot pot and bend along the ceiling.
What do I do now? I mean, if I could remember my name and still speak coherently. Well, grab the phone and get out of the house. Don’t try to save any of my stuff except the dog. Start thinking about one thing I will never be able to replace—the baby pictures.
A fire will engulf the room in about 45 seconds. Smoke will kill a man long before the flames would.
Dial 112 and try to breathe. Name, address, nature of the emergency. The fire whistle on top of the local firehouse blows and after a minute or two I hear the engine coming.  Does it really happen this fast? I am no longer alone. The yard is teeming with so many men. I will remember this the next time I get lonely.
Most likely, if I am anywhere in Germany, these are volunteers. Only 100 professional fire departments are in operation, usually in cities of 100,000 inhabitants and over. 24,000 volunteer fire departments exist today with over one million members. Like anything else in Germany, there are reams of laws dealing with setting up and maintaining a fire department. No, not just anyone can start one up because they feel like it! Regulating firefighting has a history that goes back to Roman times.
Some cities join the fire departments to their civil maintenance departments, so the premises are often manned. Large companies, like Siemens, INA/Schaeffler and the German army have their own internal fire brigades, 900 in all. We even have a fire brigade here at Höfner Guitars!
Wood-built houses are rare in southern Germany. That means that fire is rarer. I won’t say rare, because it happens. Some may say that the Höfner Fire Brigade is just hanging out, doing some löschen, (the German verb löschen means to extinguish. It also means to quench. We have a joke around the fire brigade here, that all we do is extinguish. Or quench. Thirst. Get it?)  This is not the case. Just this week they were called out to the above-illustrated fire.
These are men and women who sacrifice their free time to offer the community a desperately-needed service. And service is paid in a feeling of belonging to the community and boy, do they throw a great party.
Gotta go to Feuerwehr training! Have a great weekend!


  1. I think the culture of volunteering here in Germany for such things as the fire brigade all stems from the overall culture of self responsibility. You are expected to look after yourself and from this comes the looking after of others. In Britain it is now quite the reverse with most expecting the state to look after them. Also, in Britain, if you get hurt then it is a case of sue someone whereas here that does not prevail.
    Consequently in Britain there are few if any volunteer fire crews. Village fire stations are long gone and the current economic situation has seen the government closing many small town fire stations to save money.
    The "taking part" is understood and just done by all age groups who appear, to me anyway, to see this as the natural way of things. Sadly a bunch of lawyers and cowardly politicians have destroyed this completely in Britain and I suspect the USA.

  2. Another great blog, Laura and "well said" Nick.

  3. I lived in a small college town in upstate NY and we had a big volunteer fire department and a exceptionally well-manned volunteer rescue squad. I stayed on one year over the Christmas holidays and the pump in the heating system siezed and started to burn. I was alone in this boarding house and I called the fire dept and the first thing she told me was to get out of the house and call her back from a neighbor's, just so that she knew I was no longer in the house. Then, of course, the house was teeming with men.

    On the serious side, I've seen fire calls in our 200-man village and I am always amazed at the mass of people who turn out to help. Cheers to all us volunteers!!!

  4. Awesome to see community spirit alive and well there. We have public protection here in my town but funding and staffing issues always seem to cause much acrimony between government, unions and the general populace. It's always a hot button topic (no pun) especially since some recent manpower reductions were immediately followed by, you guessed it, two large fatal fires. I'm all for paying higher taxes for some sort of protection. Some hate that idea. A point not to be argued here of course! In our outlying areas, volunteers are the norm however, and those outfits seems to operate just fine, spread out over a much larger geographic area. There's a lesson there somewhere I guess. Great post though!

  5. My fire department(hanovertownship) is volunteer, although I am sure that, other townships (volunteer) and Bethlehem (paid), would come to help; if need be. During the holiday season they take their big red truck up and down the streets with Santa handing out candy canes or apples and do a fund raising drive. Michael helped out one summer,but he was too young to go on any calls. According to WIKI 71% of firefighters in the us are volunteer, but that number is dropping.