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U.S. Army Fire Department

Both American and German

 

The Beginning

After Augsburg’s occupation by the U.S. Army and the end of WW II, the U.S. Military Government founded the U.S. Army Fire Department in order to protect the occupied real property and buildings. First of all, Augsburg’s Fire Department had to be separated from the (Fire Protection) Police to become the Fire Brigade Augsburg, commanded by Josef Duna, the first Fire Chief. As most members of the Augsburg Fire Brigade, he also had been a member of the NSDAP (Nationalsozialistische deutsche Arbeiterpartei = National Socialist German Workers Party) and therefore all were dismissed as of July 30, 1945. On August 23, 1945 even all companies of the Voluntary Fire Brigades were prohibited and broken up by the Military Government. In the same month, the city’s Fire Brigade Augsburg got back its original name Stadtfeuerwehr. In September of 1945, already 90 employees were working for the Stadtfeuerwehr. In the spring of 1946, even the protection of American kasernes and facilities were transferred. The set-up of the Stadtfeuerwehr under Duna’s successor Leopold Gumbold was appreciated by the city administration as well as by the U.S. Military Government. His American POC curiously was a Lieutenant Fire. With the turnover of the civilian administration back to the German authorities in 1946, also the ban of the Voluntary Fire Brigades was canceled, however only the region reform of 1972 reactivated them. On June 27, 1947, an American Fire Department was installed, greatly reducing the activities of the Stadtfeuerwehr in Augsburg’s west. On July 29, 1947, the city’s Department 8 was asked by it to change the name Stadtfeuerwehr to Berufsfeuerwehr (professional fire brigade).

 

The Fire Department

At the beginning, the American Military Fire Department (as it was called in colloquial speech) recruited members of the new Labor Service, consisting of German civilians, for, at first, four Fire Stations. This meant slots for 72 professional U.S. fire fighters in the war enfeebled city by the end of 1951. All together, up to120 men were available. The cooperation with the then poorly equipped city fire brigade was excellent during all these years. Actions and support by the U.S. Fire Department were reaching far beyond city limits. It was even responsible for the ammo depot in the Siebentischwald. Although equipment and vehicles still consisted of U.S. war materials, the fire fighters already had installed fixed water cannons and light water foam against burning chemicals, the latter to be reluctantly accepted within the Federal Republic only decades later. Another American fire extinguishing comfort was the high-pressure water spray technique.

 

 

Around 1948: The Main Fire Station in Göggingen*. The Fire Marshal was also located there. The emergency phone number at that time was 7777. (Photo: H. Wohlmuth).

 

Left: Labor Service crew in front of its Class 325-Pumper, ca. 1948. (Photo: H. Wohlmuth).

Right: “Action Sandwich“: In the background U.S., in front German fire fighters at the Bobina-Eiswerke Bobingen fire on March 1, 1949. (Photo: via G. Mayer)

 

Fixed water cannon (B-nozzle) on a Class Structural 325-Pumper of the American Fire Platoons during a drill at the Stadttheater in 1949. (Photo: via G. Mayer)

 

At a common training at the Stadttheater during the American Fire Safety Week 1949, the Berufsfeuerwehr and the U.S. Fire Department showed their cooperation. The fire fighters under then Fire Chief Moritz F. Bund were present with a troop of 60. Prominent spectators along the curb were Fire Marshal August C. Kamholz, COL Johnes as well as the city’s Branddirektor Alois Hammer and Lord Mayor Dr. Müller besides many other representatives of city institutions. Even the fire brigades from Gersthofen and Bobingen attended the practice performance at which Augsburg’s U.S. fire fighters presented their state of the art equipment. Even the traditional skill practices with ladders and fire hoses were not missing. The Göggingen fire fighters were featuring a funny historical performance.

In the same year, a competition of European U.S. Fire Fighters took place in Frankfurt am Main. The winner, Augsburg’s crew, received one of the first three German - manufactured especially for the U.S. Forces - 22 meters long, turntable mounted, extension ladders installed on an Opel Blitz chassis. The Bulletin Nr. 3/52 of the Berufsfeuerwehr Augsburg contains the official instruction that ”in case of a major fire, the U.S. Army Fire Department must be alerted”.

 

            The prize for the winners: “”Reese Fire Fighters” with their mechanical Metz-Ladder, 1949.

 

Demonstration training with the new turntable mounted extension ladder at Somme (Reese) Kaserne, ca. 1950 (Photo: H. Wohlmuth).

 

During the following 1950s, the German-manned U.S. Fire Department was equipped with new vehicles, mounted on (Krupp-)Südwerke or Ford chassis, especially manufactured for the U.S. Forces in Germany. These met U.S. customs, e.g. central centrifugal pump incl. connection fixtures and large open bays for the fire hoses in the body. Protective clothing and helmets were of U.S. origin.

When during the night from December 6 to 7, 1958 a major fire at the hula-hoop factory at Schertlinstraße (near Infantry Kaserne) broke out, the U.S. took over the municipal fire protection in the empty Hauptfeuerwache at the Zeugplatz, as the Berufsfeuerwehr including the off-duty shift and almost all Werkfeuerwehren of the city were called to that spectacular operation. Also in 1958, the Reese Barracks’ fire fighters proofed to be the ‘Best Military Fire Station of Southern Command’ at a competition of 35 U.S. fire fighters and therefore received the title “Honor Fire Station”.

 

A Germany-wide (Krupp-)Südwerke manufactured U.S. fire engine at Deuringen forest at the beginning of the 1950s. (Photo: via G. Mayer).

 

Reese fire fighting squad with a new engine on a (Krupp-)Südwerke front steering chassis in the courtyard of the former riding courts. (Photo: H. Wohlmuth).

 

Reese firefighters at Hochfeld’s Infantry Kaserne. Building types here were, due to the time of their construction, different from those of the Wehrmacht kasernes. (Photo: Johnnie Worth, 109th Infantry, 1952).

 

American kids during a fire-protection education at the Labor Service camp near Sommestraße. (Photo: M. Huß).

 

Until the relocation of the 24th Aviation Battalion, there was a Fire Station at the Haunstetten Airfield. Shown is an older Class 530A-Pumper in summer of 1962.  (Photo: H. Wohlmuth).

 

The NATO SOFA SA (Status of Forces Agreement, Supplementary Agreement) of 3 Aug 1959 included detailed regulations in regard to the sending of forces of one Party/State “to serve in the territory of another Party”. Hence, the U.S. Army no longer was an occupation power, and the fire protection of the kasernes and housing areas was almost completely covered by Augsburg’s Berufsfeuerwehr. Detailed plans of actions were provided, as, even in case of a fire, any movements within the kasernes were allowed only when accompanied by the MP and the U.S. Fire Chief. What is said to having been eight Fire Stations, was dissolved step-by-step. Still active were, at first, the Airfield Fire Stations Haunstetten and Gablingen because of the rescue choppers of the 236th Medical Detachment (Air Ambulance) and the two choppers of ASA-Aviation (Gator Flight) and the ‘Helicopter School’.

In 1962, the Gablingen Airfield fire fighters and the Werkfeuerwehr of (then) Farbwerke Hoechst AG, Gersthofen, providing fire-extinguishing foam, supported the Berufsfeuerwehr during a huge fire at the Chemische Fabrik Pfersee. In May of 1965, they supported during a huge fire at the Michalke-Textilwerke in nearby Langweid-Forret. At that time, the military was even anxious in regard to their ammo depot at Stettenhofen.

In 1970, Gablingen Fire Station featured a Class 530A- (an older reserve vehicle) and two modified 530B-Pumpers on military M35A2-chassis (REO). These were required due to the construction of the Field Station, Bldg 1801, with the Wullenweber Antenna, although this ‘Top Secret’ area was, already during the construction period, absolutely ‘Off Limits’ to the German fire fighters of the Station. Sometimes several times a day, they were alerted by the tower and the required time was stopped. Every shift consisted of 4-6 men. Gablingen was also responsible for the Stettenhofen Ammo Depot.

 

Left: Gablingen Fire Station with the then beige painted doors in 1970. (Photo: G. Mayer).

Right: Class 530-Pumper in front of Gablingen Fire Station. (Photo: G. Mayer).

 

   One of the last Class 530B-Pumpers in Gablingen (FIRE CALL 95) in the 1980s. (Photo: G. Mayer).

 

Common practice of the airfield fire fighters and the 236th Medical Detachment (Air Ambulance) on Gablingen Airfield, 1988. (Photo: Jim Mullen).

 

Until 1993 (replacement of 701st by 66th MI Battalion), a modern Amertek-Pumper was on stand-by in Gablingen. Already at the end of 1992, all of the 14 employment contracts with the fire fighters were terminated. Thereafter, in order to safe funds, the fire protection duties were turned over to the nearby German communities of Gablingen and Gersthofen, however, without the provision of adequate floor plans and without site visits. The turnover was, there fore, a farce and the surrounding German Fire Stations refused, somehow, to be held responsible for the fire protection of a - for them - unknown installation, the Operations Bldg 1801, even though there were fire alarm as well as sprinkler systems installed. The lack of windows would have made any fire fighting in the 13.000 m2 complex especially difficult. As could be seen many years later during an official site visit, there were, contrary to numerous rumors, no sub-terranean floors - at least evidently.

 

In May 1989, Gablingen’s Fire Protection Branch represented itself to the German public during a “day of the open door” at Sheridan Kaserne. The castle icon on the driver’s door indicates that the fire fighters were a division the ‘Engineers’. (Photo: G. Mayer).

 

The last (Amertek-)Pumper of the Augsburg Fire Protection Division (FP Div, DEH) at Sheridan Kaserne (above) and during a demonstration at the city’s Hauptfeuerwache (below). (Photos: G. Mayer and H. Wohlmuth).

 

Augsburg’s Berufsfeuerwehr collaborating with the American Medical Service during an evacuation exercise at Flak Hospital, 1970. (Photo: M. Huß).

 

Left: A typical, attention attracting, yellow German make fire hydrant in a kaserne.

Right: Fire in a Sullivan Heights apartment, 1982. Fire fighting in the Housing Areas had been turned over to the Berufsfeuerwehr Augsburg since 1958.

 

                                              The Bavarian version - Augsburg fire fighter’s patch.

 

USAREUR Suppl 1, AR 420-90, AE LABEL 22, 27 JUN 74 in English as well as German. The last emergency call number in case of fire was 117.

 

Escape and fire protection plans in the barracks evidently did not follow any regulation and were individually ‘hand-made’ by the soldiers. Above, one of the many samples that were collected by the Amerika in Augsburg e.V. Society. Note the term SECOND DECK instead of SECOND FLOOR – Bldg 117, Sheridan Kaserne, had been utilized by the U.S. Navy Security Group Activity.

Base closure became apparent at that time. With a group of five on foot, Günter Kölbl, the last Fire Chief, terminated the history of Augsburg’s U.S. fire protection. His predecessor Erich Maurer who had been Chief / Fire Protection Division, Directorate of Engineering and Housing since 1975, a member of the Fire Department for more than 43 years - from 1947 until 1990 - died in January 2001 in Steppach. After the closure of the U.S. Fire Stations, the Fire Protection Div. took care of the passive fire protection within the kasernes, e.g. control of fire safety doors and fire extinguishers in admin buildings, barracks, mess halls or paint shops, and provided the technical review of construction, repair and maintenance project design packages. At the end, the Fire Inspectors worked more or less as interpreters only. All of this work provided jobs for local nationals, i.e. Germans. Even on Jan 23, 1998, the 527th MI Battalion released a new General Fire Order for Bldg 154, Sheridan Kaserne. In August of the very same year, the Americans left Augsburg.

The services of Augsburg’s Berufsfeuerwehr for the U.S. forces turned out quite contrary: e.g. in the first 9 months of 1981 they were called 54 times to open doors in the housing areas or in the kasernes, which meant official charges of DM 2,425.00. Mutual support was available wherever possible – even if invoiced.

The first Augsburg Fire Chief, Moritz Bund, was a honorary member of the Freiwillige Feuerwehr Dinkelscherben for more than 50 years. He died on April 2, 2008, 95 years old. 

*According to Telephone Directory, Augsburg Military Post, February 1949 

Sources: Feuerwehr Augsburg, Schwäbische Landeszeitung, original documents, statements of contemporaries, et al.

 

Translation: Heinz Strüber

 

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