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Storms result in multi-day operations

Category: National Firefighting Team of the Year

Fire department: Volunteer Fire Department Bad Gandersheim (Lower Saxony)

Operation: Storms result in multi-day operations

At about 4:40 pm, a thunderstorm cell first erupted over the Gehrenrode area. At 4:45 pm, this triggered the notification of the Gehrenrode and Altgandersheim FDs because of flooded basements and garages in Gehrenrode. Rapid assistance could be provided with a fire pump and a submersible pump.

The Altgandersheim FD was immediately recalled from this operation because another thunderstorm cell was now approaching via the western ridge of the Heber. It brought 110 litres of rain per square metre within less than two hours. The water runoff from the forest and fields carried great amounts of trees and mud with it. At this point, the road between Gehrenrode and Helmscherode could only be passed with difficulty and was blocked by the Helmscherode FD. Because the storm situation in Helmscherode was worsening, all available forces from Helmscherode were assigned to tasks. For further FD members, it was no longer possible to reach Helmscherode for hours.

Simultaneously, the masses of water reached Gremsheim, Ackenhausen, with its “Alte Mühle” seminar hotel, and Altgandersheim. Gradually, all 15 local FD units in Bad Gandersheim were called to operations in the city area under the keyword “storm deployment”. In addition, in the initial phase of the operation, a local command centre had been set up in Altgandersheim using the Bad Gandersheim command vehicle and the technical management of the Northeim Fire Protection District.

Because the enormous masses of water could only flow off via the Gande in the direction of the city centre, the FD members took measures to protect the historic old town as well as the clinics, residences and businesses, and the saltwater, outdoor and indoor swimming pool. These measures ensured that the city centre got away with only a black eye and no damage. To further support the Heber ridge, the Northeim environmental FD and units from the Agency for Technical Relief from Einbeck and Northeim as well as the Göttingen Professional Fire Department with special equipment like wheel loaders, trucks with beds, pumps and generators were requested.

In the Gremsheim area, water masses were flowing at enormous speed. A nearly one-metre-high wall of water swept through the area and destroyed the complete exterior of the pre-school; a massive barn wall was torn out, buildings were flooded and roads washed away. After drainage of the water by the Gremsheim FD with the support of other local FDs, fully flooded cellars were pumped out and roads freed of mud as much as possible. The barn in danger of collapse was inspected by construction experts and the area cordoned off.

In Altgandersheim, the water masses from Gehrenrode flowed via the Gande; from Helmscherode via the Steinbach, from the Altgandersheim forest and Gremsheim via the Luhebach. Due to the rapid events, the residents of Steinbach could not leave their houses, which were in some cases flooded up to 150 cm. They were rescued by the FD with an all-terrain vehicle belonging to the German Red Cross. Unsecured oil tanks floated away, vehicles, garden walls and heavy boulders as well as roads were simply washed away. 

Rescuing persons and animals from dangerous zones took top priority – of course while observing one’s own safety. After the water had drained off, all FD members united to pump water out of cellars and houses, clean them out, and make the streets halfway passable again. In Altgandersheim, the Turner Music Academy was especially affected. More than two million litres of water had entered the building. It affected the entire heating, air-conditioning and electrical systems as well as the basement guest rooms and their furnishings.

During the entire operation, electricity in the Altgandersheim section of the city had been interrupted; generators had to be used to operate illumination and electrical pumps. The over 350 active forces of the Bad Gandersheim FDs were dismissed between 2 and 5 am on May 30, 2018 and sent home to rest. Circa 60 members of the Einbeck FD had taken over the tasks by the next morning. At 9:30 am, the forces from the 15 units of the Bad Gandersheim FD slowly began taking up their tasks again. 

Under the supervision of the FD, decontaminated areas were pumped empty and cleaned by special companies to prevent environmental damage. The operation in Altgandersheim ended at approximately 10 pm. This year as well, the Ackenhausen area was again severely affected at prominent points. The Ackenhausen FD, supported by further local FDs, carried out protective measures and then pumped out flooded cellars, helped the affected residents and cleaned the streets. Because the Ackenhausen FD was only available in that area, crews from the Wolperode FD assisted with the “Alte Mühle” seminar hotel in Ackenhausen. Here, large parts of the seminar hotel, including its cellar, individual residences and the exterior completely flooded and contaminated by the masses of water. The cleanup and cleaning work went on over the following several days. 

The Bad Gandersheim FD members constantly had to interrupt their cleanup tasks to rescue automobile drivers who had driven on streets that were still blocked due to flooding, sustained engine damage, and were now in life-threatening situations.

The forces were provided with food and drink during the entire operation by the German Red Cross, on-call members of the Northeim FD and the Landgasthaus Kohler Altgandersheim inn. Forces from the cities and communities of Kalefeld, Einbeck, Katlenburg-Lindau and Northeim provided vehicles, pumps, generators and personnel.

This situation repeated itself in Gremsheim, Ackenhausen, Altgandersheim and Helmscherode on June 1, 2018 at 12:15 pm after another heavy rainfall. The same damage had to be dealt with once again. One noteworthy feature was the flooded church in Harriehausen and flooded cellars in the town centre. 

On June 2, 2018, the Volunteer Fire Departments of Bad Gandersheim also took care of the open-airport music event put on by the city’s office for children and youth, providing fire security services, traffic-routing and catering.

After four days of rest from storm operations, another rain shower poured down on the Äbtissinnenberg near Ellierode and over the Heber near Altgandersheim in the evening hours of June 7, 2018. This time, the damage only consisted of a few flooded and dirty roads that could be quickly handled by members of the Harriehausen, Hachenhausen, Wrescherode, Altgandersheim and Bad Gandersheim FDs.

In addition to dealing with the above-described large-scale emergency, fire protection and rescue tasks in the entire area of Bad Gandersheim and the adjacent areas with the national motorway and high-speed ICE train lines had to be ensured.

Calls for donations and campaigns by churches, fire departments and the District Fire Brigade Association contributed to the support of the many families affected by the loss of everything. The result has been the growth of respect by all parties for one another.