Firefighters of Dar es Salaam and Hamburg | Africa | DW | 27.06.2012
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Firefighters of Dar es Salaam and Hamburg

Two port cities share similar problems. Hazardous materials are on the move and there is the risk of traffic accidents. A good fire and rescue service can save lives. Enter the Hamburg fire brigade.

Both Hamburg and Dar es Salaam are major ports playing a key role in global trade. But their fire brigades couldn't be more different. Hamburg's fire brigade has a staff of 4000, its counterpart in Dar es Salaam just 126. Yet Tanzania's largest city covers an area that is twice as big as the north German metropolis.

Representatives from both fire brigades have been meeting in Hamburg to discuss joint projects. Five vehicles from the Hamburg fire brigade's fleet have already been handed over to the firefighters in Dar es Salaam. Yet personal contact and sharing experiences of fire-fighting are as much a part of this joint scheme as the supply of firefighting equipment.

Hamburg firefighter Reinhard Paulsen had the idea for this "twinning" of the two fire brigades seven years ago. "Firefighters become firefighters because they are passionate about the job. They share a common interest and want to help each other," he says.

More than just technical training

The youth wings of both fire brigades visit one another regularly. And retired Hamburg firefighters are handing on their knowledge and experience to their African colleagues. A workshop for breathing apparatus has been built with assistance from Hamburg, so that the African firefighters can maintain and repair their own life-saving equipment.

Members of the Dar es Salaam fire brigade have also spent several months in Hamburg doing on-the-job training. They pass on what they have learnt to their colleagues back home. But there are differences.

Tanzanian firefighters on a German firefighting exercise in Hamburg

Tanzanian firefighters on a German firefighting exercise in Hamburg

"In Germany, it is taken for granted that every firefighter has a self-contained breathing apparatus, but in Tanzania this is far from the norm," says Paulsen.

The training is not just technical. Puyo Elenor Nzalayaimisi is doing a three month management internship in Hamburg. Among other things, she is learning how to run a fire brigade academy.

German firefighters also benefit

It would be wrong to assume that only the Dar es Salaam firefighters profit from this partnership scheme. Janne Börold is studying rescue engineering in Hamburg and is a member of the city's volunteer firefighting force. She was in Dar es Salaam on a work placement when the city was badly hit by floods. For days on end, she and her Tanzanian colleagues saved local residents from drowning.

The work was much more demanding than at home. "In Germany, there are standard procedures for fighting fires or rescuing flood victims, they are based on the structure of the service," Börold says. In Tanzania, on the other hand, she and her colleagues were forced to come up with their own strategies at every turn.

The experience she accumulated went beyond rescue work. "My time in Dar es Salaam was very well spent. I met a lot of very nice people and really enjoyed myself. I experienced things that will influence me for the rest of my whole life," she says.

The reason for the success of this particular partnership between Germany and Tanzania is the firefighters' spirit. The readiness to help those need has turned firefighters into a closely-knit international community which transcends cultural barriers. "If I set foot in a fire station anywhere in the world, and introduce myself as a firefighter, then doors will open for me," says Klauer Mauer, head of the Hamburg fire service. The reverse also applies. "Guests who come and see us are welcome at any time."

Deep friendships have been formed down the years. "The head of the fire service in Dar es Salaam, Fikiri Salla, has visited my home and met my family. I have visited his home and met his family," Paulsen says.. "A partnership between fire services has also become a partnership between families."

Author:Hilke Fischer / mc
Editor: Susan Houlton

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