According to media reports, the Berlin fire brigade had to declare a state of emergency for hours at the weekend because there were not enough rescue workers. In addition to a lack of staff, the heat and hasty emergency calls are a problem.

In the night from Saturday to Sunday, the Berlin fire brigade had to declare a state of emergency for a full 16 hours. This was reported by the regional media “Tagesspiegel”, “rbb24” and the “Berliner Zeitung” on Monday. In the meantime, the fire brigade was unable to respond to emergency calls at all or only with a delay.

Around 90 employees were missing on Sunday night, and 21 ambulances were also not manned, the Berliner Zeitung wrote. According to a report by the Tagesspiegel, even more employees were missing on Sunday morning.

A state of emergency is being declared more and more often in Berlin

A state of emergency is declared when the ambulance capacity is 80 percent and it takes longer than ten minutes for them to arrive. This has been the case with the Berlin fire brigade more and more frequently in recent years: According to the Tagesspiegel, they have already declared a state of emergency 166 times this year – i.e. on almost every day of the year so far. This also means that halfway through the year, the record from the whole of last year was almost broken: in 2021, according to “rbb24”, the state of emergency was declared 178 times – almost three times more than in 2020. Because the cases have been increasing for years, and the state of emergency lasted particularly long at the weekend, the chairman of the German Fire Brigade Union (DFeuG), Lars Wieg, no longer wants to speak of a real exception. “The fact that we had a state of emergency for 16 hours, there is the question: is that still a state of emergency?” he told “rbb24”.

What is new, however, is that the fire brigade was only able to send vehicles to the scene with a delay or not at all after an emergency call, fire department spokesman Thomas Kirstein told the broadcaster. The fire brigade even stated to the Tagesspiegel that it was “the worst weekend this year”. During the 16-hour state of emergency, the fire brigade was initially unable to take care of 40 emergency calls. The conditions were so devastating that the Berlin fire brigade even had to send fire engines to medical emergencies at the weekend, the “Berliner Zeitung” reported.

Lack of staff, heat and hasty emergency calls make life difficult for the fire brigade

The central problem is the long-standing shortage of personnel in the rescue services. However, this problem can hardly be solved in the short term: “The personnel that we need for the rescue service have been trained for three years. It’s not that easy to get.” said DFeuG chairman Wieg to the Tagesspiegel. Many firefighters would also be retiring soon – Kirstein predicted to “rbb24” that in the next seven years about a quarter of the staff would stop working for this reason.

The heat also poses challenges for the fire brigade. Older people in particular often have health problems, fire department spokesman Kirstein told the station. The increased risk of fire due to the high temperatures also makes the situation more difficult: “Due to the weather conditions, we also have to ensure that we ensure basic protection when fighting fires,” the “Berliner Zeitung” quotes him as saying.

Another problem is that the rescue workers are called to many operations that are not actually considered emergencies, said Karsten Hintzmann from the DRK rescue service in Berlin to the “Tagesspiegel”. The Berliner Zeitung reports that the fire brigade does not record the exact number of emergency calls, which are not actually calls, because there is a lack of personnel. But you know that there are people who call up to 300 times a year, fire department spokesman Kirstein told “rbb24”.

According to “rbb24”, there were first crisis meetings at the fire brigade on Monday, in which the conditions from the weekend should be evaluated internally. According to the broadcaster, Lars Wieg also called for an early round table with all those involved that Berlin politicians had to get involved. A spokesman for the fire brigade told the Tagesspiegel that they now want to check which ways can be used to get more staff at short notice, and whether the emergency call center would be too quick to declare the rescue service responsible for incoming calls. The aid organizations would also make more ambulances and staff available in the summer.

Sources: “Tagesspiegel”, “rbb24”, “Berliner Zeitung”