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HesperiaStar.com
  • OUT-OF-TOWNERS

    German firefighters visit local fire stations, share stories

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  • HESPERIA — More than 5,500 miles separate local firefighters from the Ahrendsburg Fire Department’s firefighters in northern Germany.
    For 14 days, four Ahrendsburg firefighters are on a working vacation visiting firefighters at San Bernardino County Fire stations in the High Desert and down the hill to exchange ideas and stories about firefighting in their respective areas.
    “We just want to tell good stories, learn from each other,” Ahrendsburg Fire Department Capt. Markus Priemel said this week as he visited County Fire Station 305 in Hesperia. “We all are in the business of helping people.”
    Priemel and Ahrendsburg Division Chief Jan Haarleander visited Hesperia on Tuesday evening and talked to county firefighters about the all-volunteer fire departments in Germany — a different approach than the county’s paid model.
    The four arrived in California on Saturday. They have paid their own way and are visiting the stations in addition to their sightseeing. This is Priemel’s 21st visit to the U.S., and it is Haarleander’s first.
    “We made arrangements to come out about a year ago,” Priemel said. “I had done something like this back in the ’90s with the Miami-Dade County Fire Department and I wanted to do it again and find out about training and firefighting in the U.S. This county was very kind to us and they looked like a good department with different landscapes.”
    He said the desert is like nothing in Germany — their station in northern Germany is on the coast and very flat.
    “Our highest mountain is about 400 feet,” Priemel said. “The hottest it usually gets is maybe the 90s for 14 or 15 days. December to March is cold and snow.”
    Priemel said Germany has roughly 5,000 fire departments, and 80 percent are staffed completely by volunteers ranging in age from 17 to 55. Firefighters are responsible for handling fires and electrical or plumbing emergencies. Priemel said paramedics are completely separate and take care of car crashes, search-and-rescues and all medical calls.
    Firefighters work regular day jobs and are paged when they are needed. Priemel works as a dispatcher, while Haarleander works in the marketing department of a company that buys spices.
    “Yeah, I’m like, ‘Put your spices down!’ You have to go to a fire!” Priemel joked.
    Haarleander said companies in Germany are understanding with the volunteer firefighters and let them leave their jobs when they’re called.
    “It’s like they help us by letting them go, and we say, ‘Hey, we help you too, we protect the buildings,’ ” Haarleander said.
    In contrast, SBCFD Firefighter-Paramedic Eric Sherwin said there are just four volunteer fire stations in San Bernardino County, an area as big as the German state of Schleswig-Holstein, where Priemel and Haarleander’s station is located.
    Priemel said the volunteer station model can allow for up to 100 firefighters responding to one fire, as opposed to the 10 or 12 that usually respond from the paid, full-time SBCFD stations.
    “It’s just a totally different approach,” Sherwin said. “It’s a completely different way of looking at firefighting.”
    After talking to firefighters and getting an introduction to the joint Sheriff Department-Fire Department helicopter, Priemel said the group is planning to go to Los Angeles, Santa Monica, Disneyland and Universal Studios before heading to Las Vegas and going back to Germany on Sept. 12.
    Anneli Fogt can be reached at AFogt@VVDailyPress.com or 760-951-6276. Follow her on Twitter @DP_anneli_fogt.  
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