Volunteer firefighters in Germany – Freiwillige Feuerwehr

Last Updated on April 18, 2023

Volunteer firefighters in Germany are an important part of life. After all, they not only put out fires, but also go to the car accidents, help by various natural disasters or technical accidents, along with the voluntary technical aid organization of THW, and they are important part of the town community. Volunteer firefighters is called Freiwillige Feuerwehr in German.

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The first voluntary fire brigades arose in Saarland in 1811. From 1835, fire protection societies began to be created in Germany as well. The fire brigade in our city also has a long history: it was established in 1863.

Volunteer firefighters in Germany – how to become a team member

The fire protection in our city unites five divisions: in the city itself and four “suburbs” villages (about 15,000 inhabitants in total). There are 146 people in total, 55 of them are in our city. These are active members of the team, and there is also a youth division and retirees. There are also women in the team – 9 people.

Anyone can become a member of the team, but usually they start doing this from childhood. Recruitment of children is carried out with us in the summer, they take in beginners from 9 to 12 years old. The children’s team (Jugendfeuerwehr) not only studies theory and learns how to lay out hoses, but also goes to various sports and entertainment events: to team competitions, to a rope park, rafting, hiking etc.

An adult (from 16/18 years old, depending on the federal land), who wants to join the team, is interviewed by the commandant. And the further admission rules are different everywhere: somewhere there are trial shifts or a probationary period, somewhere they pass a sports test. There are no official requirements set, only a vague “physical preparedness”, “psychological preparedness” and no problems with the law.

Firefighters undergo regular training and have different levels of admittance. Some can only help with hoses and work not with fire, others can put out open fires, others can enter a burning house, and so on. Specific levels and ranks are set by each land.

Volunteer firefighters and employers

By law, a volunteer firefighters can leave the workplace on call, during which time he is paid wages. It is then compensated to the employer by city services. Those who do not work or are self-employed are compensated for calls, but not more than a certain amount.

In practice, it happens that the employer forbids volunteer firefighters to leave during working hours, and the employee has to choose between work and service.

This work belongs to “honorable” voluntary work (ehrenamtlich). This means that you must not forget about the correct declaration of this income in the tax return.

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However, only the 100 largest cities in Germany have professional fire services, and even those work jointly with volunteers.

From my observation, the city authorities prefer to take the main and most trained firefighters to work in city services in order to minimize conflict with the main job. For example, the commander of our service simultaneously works in the town hall in the engineering department.

A volunteer firefighter must work a certain number of hours per month on duty in the fire station (Feuerwache) and leave on calls that come in on a pager. Mobile communications, being unreliable, can only be used as a second, additional way to call a fireman.

For example, my husband’s graduate student works several nights a month on duty in the unit and works in the fire department of the organization (and this is not an easy job: they deal with combustible gases and conduct experiments) and carries a pager with him everywhere. And he donates blood some times pro year (it is regularly collected by mobile ambulance points here) and receives absolutely nothing for it. Being a firefighter in his family is inherited, for them it is a way of life and friends.

How volunteer firefighters work in Germany

Our fire station has five large vehicles (four with hoses and equipment and one ladder; one 1975, one 2000, the rest almost new) and four small ones. This is only in our city, and the village departments each have their own big machine with hoses. Over the past two years, the fire department has expanded the garage, the city has given (in fact, to itself) a new large car.

Where are they being called? There are about 10 calls per month:
fires of various calibers (more often, of course, small ones),
smoke – fire alarms that went off,
trees that fell on rails or roads,
a child’s leg stuck in a bicycle,
a truck that ran off the road,
a person stuck in a car due to an accident,
traces of oil on the road,
jammed door of the house,
accidents on the autobahn (critical area – to the nearest exits in both directions)

At my son’s school, there were two alarms: once a false alarm due to a dust cloud during renovations, and once a chemical spill.

Twice there were fires in pensioners’ houses, once the roof burned down. Firefighters arrived almost instantly, and I would not say that they acted like non-professionals.

Volunteer firefighters as part of the community

The fire department holds holidays every year: they set up a Maypole, arrange a summer holiday, an open day. In the year of the celebration of the 150th anniversary, there were more events than usual. For example, there was a parade of vintage fire engines, which were attended by cars even from France.

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Fire trucks parade

And on the autumn festival, with a torchlight procession and a party accompanied by folk music, a brass band from Odenwald arrived, performing folk songs. A quarter of the city gathered for sure. Also if you want to be part of the local community, become part of the volunteer firefighters team.

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