At least eight U.S. Army Garrison Rheinland-Pfalz employees braved rushing floodwaters and devastation to help their fellow countrymen July 15 during some of the worst flooding the country’s ever seen.
Five off-duty garrison firefighters and three Baumholder Military Community local-national employees put their off-duty expertise to use, saving lives during the horrendous flooding wreaking havoc across western Germany and Belgium. All eight employees are attached to the Directorate of Public works.
Lukas Seibert, 23, has been a refrigeration/air conditioning specialist for the garrison since July 1. On weekends he is part of the German Lifesaving Association, a group of lifeguards who watch over the country’s lakes, pools, and other bodies of water, taking care of swimmers and boaters. The all-volunteer force also receives special training in swift water and flood rescues, which is why on-scene commanders called Seibert’s unit.
“I had already seen the pictures and video of the flooding,” Seibert said. “As soon as the call came, there was no question about going to help.”
Christoph Himbert, a firefighter in the Baumholder Military Community, answered the call when officials called his hometown Saarbrücken Volunteer Fire Department to historic Trier, Germany, July 15.
“It was shocking,” Himbert said. “It was a total disaster area. Just complete devastation. The streets had several feet of water flowing on them, cars had floated away and were buried in the mud, houses were damaged, and debris was everywhere.”
The larger Rhine and Mosel Rivers overflowed their banks in western Germany. According to experts, the record rainfall dumped three months-worth of rain on the region in three days and flooded smaller rivers and tributaries. Waves of brown river water deluged the historic towns and villages beginning July 15.
The death toll due to flooding was more than 150, and nearly 1,300 were missing or unaccounted for, as of July 19.
Seibert’s crew used rescue boats to make their way through the tiny village of Kordel, about 50 miles northwest of Baumholder. Water inundated the village of about 2,900 people, pouring in from the smaller Kyll River.
“We were there from 11 a.m. Thursday until about 3 p.m. Friday looking for anyone we could help. The water was above the first floor of every building,” Seibert recalled. “By the end of our shift, we had rescued almost 100 people.”
The Saarbrücken crew took their emergency medical unit, a mobile first-aid station with pre-packed medical supplies, to the Trier suburbs of Biewer and Ahrang.
Himbert said he and the other Saarbrücken volunteers spent eight hours on-scene.
“Everything was blocked off, so we only met those who were coming into the emergency shelter,” Himbert said. “They were in a daze. One gentleman had to leave his house so fast he was only wearing his underwear. He didn’t have time to grab any other clothing.”
The firefighters and the lifeguards received after-action counseling to check their mental health after their time in the devastated areas.
None of the garrison employees missed their next workday.
In all, five USAG R-P firefighters/first responders gave up their off-days to work with their local community volunteer fire departments during the worst of the flooding.
“We are proud of our garrison firefighters and their dedication to the garrison community and their hometown communities,” said the USAG R-P Fire Chief William Maciorowski.
The other USAG R-P firefighters who contributed included: Firefighter Wicko Forler, Sembach Kaserne and a member of the Goellheim Fire Department; Firefighter Timo Theisinger Miseau Army Depot and member of the Sulzbachtal Fire Department; Firefighter Bernd Steininger, Kaiserslautern East Fire Station and member of the City of Zweibrucken Fire Department; Dispatcher Raphael Dufour, Rhine Ordnance Barracks and a member of the County of Zweibruecken Fire Department; and Dirk Barz, Fire Inspector on ROB and a member of the Reichenbach-Steegen Fire Department. These employees gave up off-duty days to aid in rescue efforts with their hometown fire stations.
Metal-shop worker Udo Eifler and electrician Philipp Schafer, from the Baumholder DPW, also went with their local fire departments to flooded scenes.
“This is the largest event I’ve ever been a part of as a firefighter,” Himbert said. “My heart goes out to everyone affected by this disaster.”
Authorities are asking the public to stay away from any of the flooded areas. The areas are dangerous to even skilled rescue crews.
As of the time of publication, the state of Rheinland-Pfalz has not asked the American military to aid in the rescue operation.
On Friday, July 16, a call went out to the Kaiserslautern Military Community for donation to the German Red Cross (Deutsches Rotes Kreuz). The response from the surrounding communities was so significant, DRK officials eventually turned away donations citing lack of space from previous donations to store items at their facilities in Ramstein and Landstuhl.