German emergency services train at USAGK

by Rick Scavetta and Helen Tesfai
U.S. Army Garrison Kaiserslautern

During recent training, German police negotiators practiced talking out a masked
hostage-taker from U.S. Army Garrison Kaiserslautern’s fire station on Sembach Kaserne.

At Kaiserslautern Army Depot, a nearby garrison installation, German firefighter trainees got hands-on experience with an emergency situation among Army tanker trucks and heavy equipment.

Events like these represent a long-standing cooperation between the garrison’s Department of Emergency Services and local German police and firefighters, said Jürgen Stegner, the garrison fire chief.

“It’s all about teamwork. When we practice together it shows the great relationship,” Stegner said. “We have 100 percent cooperation with German authorities and in case we need them, we have their support.”

Lt. Col. Lars Zetterstrom, commander of U.S. Army Garrison Kaiserslautern, agreed and thanked those involved for making the exercises successful.

“The garrison’s partnership and friendship with our German hosts is critical, but none can be more important than our mutual emergency services’ efforts to protect our families, friends and neighbors,” Zetterstrom said.

During the simulated Sembach standoff, a faceless criminal held a fake knife to garrison firefighter Wolfgang Zell’s neck, shouting his demands to German hostage negotiators. A SWAT team from the Rheinland-Pfalz state police held positions nearby, waiting for orders to move in.

Under current status of forces agreements, German police respond to major crimes on post, including high threat situations such as hostage takers, said Horst Mehlinger, a German police liaison who has worked closely with U.S. forces for three decades. Based in nearby Enkenbach-Alsenborn, the team would likely be the police experts called upon should a crisis arise in the Kaiserslautern area, he said.

Police teams often become familiar with their own training area. Holding an exercise in an area they don’t know well, such as the Sembach firehouse, better tests their abilities and created a more realistic scenario, he said.

“It’s important for our team to know and be aware of the area in case an incident was to happen,” Mehlinger said. “We try to use a lot different installations — places where something might happen.”

Meanwhile, at the depot, soon-to-be German firefighters ran long hoses across in a remote corner of post, where the Theater Logistics Support Center-Europe parks its green camouflaged-colored Army trucks.

The garrison has fire stations in Sembach, Miesau and in the east end of Kaiserslautern. In each area, the garrison maintains mutual aid agreements with local German communities to support each other when fires or other
emergencies occur. The TLSC-E, a garrison tenant organization, routinely supports German firefighters during the hands-on part of the three-month basic training, giving them space and equipment to simulate emergency situations.

“On this installation, we have all kinds of possibilities,” said Kaiserslautern Fire Chief Achim Müller. “We don’t bother anyone. We can train on a tanker truck or on any other vehicle.”

Sweating inside fireproof uniforms and helmets under the midday sun, trainees took turns in dragging comrades over gravel, simulating a rescue as instructor Mark Denzer barked orders. The exercise is designed to push trainees to their limit, physically and mentally, Denzer said.

The firefighters are thankful to be able to train at U.S. Army Garrison Kaiserslautern, he said. 

“It is great that this is working so well,” Denzer said “We hope to keep up a good cooperation.”