The Waldbrandteam or Forest Fire Team was formed in 2015 to establish a Type 2 Initial Attack (IA) Crew in Germany. This was made possible through the efforts of several individuals, who also became members of the crew. Their previous experience in other areas of wildland fire fighting, helped them fully appreciate the need to expand firefighting capabilities and helped frame a vision for the potential benefits of such an effort. Their goal was to organize a Type 2 IA Crew that would be able to support European States in responding to wildfire emergencies.
The first step in development of this crew was for the Waldbrandteam originators to review the US National Wildfire Coordinating Group (NWCG) standards for crew characterization, firefighting qualifications, and training principles. They then planned the crew size, necessary qualifications, program goals and objectives, and operating principles by closely following these standards. They then began to build the list of participants and seek training and hands-on learning opportunities. Some team members were able to participate in training exchanges in other countries, including the USA.
All team members are volunteers and their contributions involve taking time away from regular jobs and families to go abroad and help others, often on their own vacation time. The guiding association for the Waldbrandteam is a non-profit Non-Governmental Organization that relies on membership fees and donations to help defray travel expenses and equipment.
To date, 21 members of the team have achieved at least the NWCG Firefighter 1 (FFT 1) status while overhead have gained qualifications up to the Crewboss Level. The majority of the overhead have been to the United States several times at their own expense and vacation time, have completed training, and shadowed US firefighters to gain experience and leadership skills necessary to perform their tasks.
The ability to obtain equipment and supplies is limited and subject to donations, contributions, and other support from outside sources. Recent donated additions to the fire cache include a Mark 3 pump and a 22″ bar wildfire chainsaw. It is hoped that as experience and awareness increases, more equipment and support will become available.Principle benefits of the team are related to increased international firefighting capabilities by increasing the numbers of trained, experienced, and mobile crew and overhead resources. These resources are available throughout the European States; mobility and rapid response are trademarks of the team. Secondary benefits of this effort include the ability to deliver internationally accepted wildfire training for local Fire Departments and Forest agencies in Germany. Currently there is no wildfire training curriculum and fire events during the past few years have involved several near misses and burned engines. Developing and delivering such training will promote and ensure safer and more efficient operations during wildfire response activities. Training consists of classroom instruction including LACES, pump and roll operations, use of handtools, use of local fire engines, use of a combination of tools and resources, and also teaching the Campbell fire behavior prediction system. In addition, live fire training exercises using prescribed fire classes that members have completed are used to engage trainees in real events, see fire behavior first-hand and on a scale that promotes increased learning, and to have opportunities to gain a greater appreciation of the interactions of the fire environment variables and highly changeable nature of wildfire.
Networking has been and will be a big part of the team’s goals and members have traveled to fire events, conferences, and training exchange in Portugal, Spain, Italy, Austria and USA. This type of interaction accelerates learning, creates new opportunities, and helps with information exchange and team members being students of fire.
Those responsible for development of the Waldbrandteam had a vision to increase wildfire response and training capabilities. This vision faced many difficult challenges, but selfless individual commitment and many sacrifices have made success possible. These efforts have already yielded increased numbers of qualified individuals; improved initial attack support, both in terms of numbers, capability, and mobility; escalated opportunities to deliver necessary and valuable training, and are promoting safer and more efficient wildfire response activities in Europe.
In 2017, some team members attended the 14th International Wildland Fire Safety Summit and the International Congress on Prescribed Fire in Barcelona, Spain. Planned activities include having the team travel 1500 miles to Portugal to assist the Firefighters of the City of Mondim de Basto in managing wildfires threatening the landscape and the wildland-urban interface (WUI) close to the village. Another trip will take the team to Austria for a large-scale exercise involving five helicopters to assist and train local firefighters in handtool and heliciopter tactics for use on fires in the rugged, alpine Terra.
About the Waldbrandteam
WHERE THEY WORK: The team has members around Germany — a non-regional group with several bigger clusters of active members. Our fire cache sits in the middle where the majority of members is located.
TEAM GOAL: The major goal of the team is to support southern European states (and even the United States maybe one day) during severe wildfire crisis so the support for German Fire Departments is an ancillary goal.
FIRE RESPONSE: All fires in Germany are managed by municipal Fire Departments (or Federal responders if the fire is on military installations). Waldbrandteam is a non-profit NGO but as an approved component of the civil protection service in Germany we can work closely together with other departments — not as an initial attack force but by providing handcrews or advice depending on the needs on scene.
ORGANIZATION: Waldbrandteam is similar to Working on Fire as all members are volunteering too. Some are paid firefighters in their main job, but the majority are volunteer firefighters and volunteer outside of the team.
FINANCES: The team doesn’t charge for the service apart from fuel or damaged equipment if being called. The team raises money by delivering training to fire departments doing live fire exercises on open rangelands, training them in LACES and other applicable safety standards.