Garrison firefighters help douse flames at German horse farm

Story and photo by Rick Scavetta
U.S. Army Garrison Kaiserslautern

A dog barking in the pre-dawn darkness alerted its sleeping owners of a fire in their apartment, one of two homes at a local German horse farm.

German firefighters from nearby Winnweiler knew they would likely need some help dousing the blaze.

Thanks to a mutual aid agreement with U.S. Army Garrison Kaiserslautern, they were able to call upon Army firefighters at Sembach Kaserne.

It was just after 4 a.m. when Thilo Schwender, a crew chief at Sembach’s fire station, received the call. He and fellow firefighters had just returned to the station from a fire alarm on post and were hoping to clean up and rest.

Instead, they put their gear back on and drove their trucks out into the darkness, toward Schweisweiler, a small farming community roughly 15 miles north of Kaiserslautern. By then, apartments at the horse farms were fully engulfed in flames.

“It burns very big and we can see it from one mile,” Schwender said. “The sky was yellow.”

The fire moved into the attic and was spreading rapidly. Several cows nearby were moved. Just 45 feet away, dozens of horses were in their stable. Garrison firefighters coordinated their plan with the local firefighters and began their attack.
Firefighter Fabian Reidenbach was in charge of pumping water from a truck. From his vantage point, he could see the challenge they faced. Roaring flames consumed the building and showed little signs of stopping.

“The fire was always getting bigger and bigger,” Reidenbach said.
Soon, firefighters opened the roof and sprayed water from ladders above. Gradually, the fire subsided.

No people or animals were harmed by the fire, which occurred early Dec. 23, said firefighter Andreas Zell.

“A fire is a fire. I help people on base or off base, it’s not different for me,” Zell said. “I’m proud when everyone from my crew is coming back and everyone is okay.”

Winnweiler mayor Rudolf Jacob expressed his gratitude for neighborly assistance in a recent letter to Lt. Col. Lars Zetterstrom, U.S. Army Garrison Kaiserslautern commander.

“We want to take this opportunity to thank you very much and the firefighter(s) for support in this devastating fire,” Jacob wrote.

In Kaiserslautern, garrison firefighters are mostly German civilian employees and many also serve local volunteer departments. In the summer of 2010, they fought a major fire at the Kleber Kaserne Shoppette. But, large fires on post are rare, firefighters said. Thankfully, most calls are alarms to check.

Since the 2010 Winnweiler mutual aid agreement, Sembach firefighters have helped local stations about once a month, often assisting with car accidents on the nearby autobahn. The horse farm fire was the first time they helped put out a major fire off post.

“They call us when we they need us and on the other side, we can call them if we need them. It’s a very good thing, this agreement,” Reidenbach said.