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Unexpected storm

Category: National Firefighting Team of the Year

Fire department: Freiwillige Feuerwehr Übersee am Chiemsee (Bavaria)

Operation: Large-scale emergency during festival

From 8:52 pm on Friday evening, August 8, 2017 to circa 3 am, the Übersee Volunteer Fire Department provided 62 active firefighters for expected operations due to an expected storm. Valuable support came from the Ruhpolding, Siegsdorf, Reit im Winkl, Grassau, Grabenstätt, Marquartstein, Staudach FDs and from the regional fire inspection. The Federal Agency for Technical Relief as well as special units for large-scale emergencies from Munich’s Professional Fire Department also provided on-site support. Under the overall management of the Übersee Volunteer Fire Department, many special situations and a total of 190 firefighters had to be coordinated.

Even before the festival site was cleared, a task force was formed in the Übersee firehouse, which assigned incoming brigades to different areas. Crews were allocated both for the town as well as for the festival grounds, and operation sections were formed. Preparations for a possible evacuation were also made.

When the first emergency calls and orders of the coordination group were received by the fire department, operations were ordered according to priority. The most important task was restoring the infrastructure. A number of important access roads and escape routes were not passable due to large fallen trees. To enable ambulances and shuttle buses to use the streets foreseen for evacuation, the fire department first removed all downed trees from these roads. Simultaneously, additional rescue services from the fire department, Malteser and Red Cross were starting to arrive at the staging areas, which necessitated precise coordination of these forces under substantial time constraints. Parallel to the removal of downed trees, all-terrain buggies traversed the camping sites looking for persons in need of help or possibly injured.

Because a Malteser aid station next to the festival site could no longer be used, part of the firehouse was spontaneously converted into a central treatment area. A number of injured persons and those seeking protection were registered, triaged, treated and provided for. Ambulances transported injured persons from the firehouse to nearby hospitals. 

Via emergency call to the Übersee fire department, several persons trapped on the banks of Lake Chiemsee notified the helpers about their situation. Due to fallen trees – some of which were on and some between the vehicles – about 500 people could no longer drive away from the Chiemsee shore. This operation had to be classified as a time-critical so that no one in the vehicles would be injured by falling trees. Seestrasse and Julius Exter-Promenade were at times not passable. Little by little, FD crews freed the streets of debris from trees, thus enabling the lake visitors to leave in an orderly manner.

In the further course of the operation, the Übersee FD tasked specially trained personnel to deal with a train accident along the railway line to Salzburg. Near Sossau, a tree had fallen into the track bed and fallen on the overhead line, damaging it and starting to burn. At the request of the Traunstein Integrated Control Center, the tactical handling of this operation was assigned to the Chiemsee Summer Festival task force.

Previously prepared emergency plans for the evacuation and lodging of rail passengers in emergency shelters were immediately implemented. In small team vans, the FDs drove circa 90 passengers on the narrow dirt road next to the railway line to a prepared shelter in Grabenstätt. This operation was problematic due to time constraints: because the train was only operating with battery reserves, the emergency manager said that the lighting and air conditioning would soon fail. The longer the railway line was blocked, the more complicated it would be to enable festival visitors to depart.

Two further emergency messages at least temporarily held the task force and operation heads in the Übersee firehouse in suspense. A sailboat with several persons on board that had been sailing from the Herreninsel from the east shore of Lake Chiemsee had not arrived at its home port. An alarm went out and forces from the staging areas were tasked with this rescue; happily, however, the persons were found in safety shortly afterwards. The Übersee FD also answered a second emergency call about several uprooted trees on the motorway and sent a support vehicle. Because the route was free in the Übersee area, no intervention was necessary.

Thanks to many years of optimal preparation and planning for such major catastrophes by the fire department and all other participating organisations, even this exceptionally violent storm and the subsequent challenges were mastered professionally and in as structured a manner as possible.