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Bonners provide forest fire relief in Athens: "We have quite a bit of respect for this mission"

Bonners provide forest fire relief in Athens : "We have quite a bit of respect for this mission"

57 helpers from the region are to help fight the flames in Greece. It's a mission they have "quite a bit of respect" for, according to Bonn Fire Department headquarters.

They had only a few hours to get ready to leave: Early Sunday morning, 55 firefighters from Bonn, Königswinter and Leverkusen left in a long convoy for Greece to help extinguish the devastating forest fires there. If everything goes according to plan, the specialized helpers with a total of 19 vehicles are expected to reach their first stopover near Innsbruck on Sunday evening and arrive at the scene on Wednesday. Two more firefighters will fly to Athens on Monday as an advance team.

"We received the final deployment request in the night to Saturday," reports Lutz Schumacher from the command service of the Bonn professional fire department. Previously, Greece had requested firefighting assistance through the European Union (EU). The Bonn force is part of a so-called forest fire module. This consists of four all-terrain fire-fighting vehicles, a command unit and a supply unit. The EU has developed a civil protection procedure that provides for such special units for major fires. They are to be able to be called up at short notice and well prepared within the Union. The forest fire module of the fire departments from Bonn, Königswinter and Leverkusen has existed since 2019 - and now has to pass its first test abroad.

On Saturday evening, the helpers met in Bonn for a briefing, then packed their things, slept a few hours and started at 7 a.m. on Sunday from the main station on Lievelingsweg. The convoy to Greece includes 36 men and women from Bonn, including 32 from the professional and volunteer fire departments. The Red Cross and the Maltese have sent four people along as a supply unit. This is because the group, led by Bonn official Simon Friz, must be completely self-sufficient according to EU specifications: with food supplies for two weeks, tents, beds and mobile toilets, so as not to burden the on-site operations management with additional organizational work. It carries two trucks of drinking water alone.

Special equipment for the fight against the fire

The route leads via Austria to Italy on the Adriatic coast. From Ancona, the German helpers will take the ferry to Greece on Monday, arriving in the port city of Patras after about 24 hours. "We organized the trip on Saturday with the help of our networks at the Italian and Austrian fire departments," reports Lutz Schumacher. Near Innsbruck, the group is to spend the night at a firefighting school on Sunday.

The mission will probably take place near Athens and last about a week there. In addition to the all-terrain firefighting vehicles, the Germans have special equipment with them for fighting the fires in high heat: thinner protective clothing, lighter helmets and special tools. Forest fires on this scale are likely to be a new experience for most of the group. "We already have quite a bit of respect for this operation," says Schumacher. For this reason, four expert advisors from the aid organization "@fire" are accompanying the convoy. The association is made up of experts in the field of natural disasters and major fires.

(Original text: Andreas Baumann, Translation: Mareike Graepel)