Less than 24 hours after the devas­tat­ing earth­quake in Turkey, the first aid work­ers from the German aid orga­ni­za­tion @fire were on the ground on Monday. With a total of 38 emer­gency person­nel and three rescue dogs, the team in the town of Kahra­man­maraş was busy non-stop search­ing and rescu­ing buried victims and assist­ing in the coor­di­na­tion of inter­na­tional aid. Five people were rescued and extri­cated from the wreck­age by the clas­si­fied Light USAR team. On Sunday, the search and rescue team returned to Germany.

“Five lives saved is an over­whelm­ing summary of our mission,” said Florian Zonker, who co-led the team with Johannes Gust. “That’s when you know what you’ve been prac­tic­ing for all these years and putting count­less hours into prepar­ing for.” “Da weiß man, wofür man die ganzen Jahre geübt und unzäh­lige Stun­den in die Vorbere­itung investi­tiert hat.” “We did far more than was expected of us as a Light USAR team,” adds Johannes Gust. “Our deploy­ment is designed to last five days; we have now been deployed for seven days.” Seven days after the earth­quake, the prob­a­bil­ity of still being able to rescue people alive is very low - espe­cially with the persis­tently low temper­a­tures. More than 120 USAR teams are still on the ground for the final search and rescue efforts. In close coor­di­na­tion with the United Nations Disas­ter Assess­ment and Coor­di­na­tion (UNDAC), @fire was there­fore released from the mission on Satur­day evening. On Sunday morn­ing the team started their jour­ney home.

The response team was still work­ing on several collapsed build­ings in Kahra­man­maras on Satur­day. Rescue dogs had struck at two collapsed houses. With tech­ni­cal locat­ing equip­ment and addi­tional rescue dogs, the task was to verify the suspi­cion. For this purpose, listen­ing devices were used in partic­u­lar - search cameras were also used to look into cavi­ties. However, the suspi­cions could not be confirmed.

“Unfor­tu­nately, part of the search and rescue team’s job is also to deal with the fact that in quite a few cases they can’t help. At least then the hope remains that they can at least give the rela­tives some certainty about what happened to their loved ones under the rubble,” says Sebas­t­ian Hodapp.

In addi­tion, the mission team actively supported the coor­di­na­tion of inter­na­tional aid under the umbrella of the United Nations Inter­na­tional Search and Rescue Advi­sory Group (INSARAG). The Reception/Departure Center (RDC) at Adana Airport was initially oper­ated jointly with a Swiss USAR team and then inde­pen­dently until depar­ture. The @fire forces there had their hands full coor­di­nat­ing the arrival of more than 120 inter­na­tional teams. We were able to hand over the RDC to an Indone­sian USAR team on Satur­day. Three @fire forces also provide active support in the USAR Coor­di­na­tion Cell (UCC) and the Sector Coor­di­na­tion Cell (SCC), the inci­dent and section comman­ders. In addi­tion, we provided IT equip­ment and supplied the SCC with an Inter­net connec­tion via satellite.The 38 task forces had come together from all over Germany, Austria, Switzer­land and Arme­nia. In the back­ground, another 40 forces from @fire, the part­ner compa­nies Jola Rent and Heavy Rescue Germany, the Hatter­sheim Fire Depart­ment and numer­ous other support­ers supported the oper­a­tion with logis­tics and home staff. The home­land staff main­tained unin­ter­rupted contact with the oper­a­tions team and provided around-the-clock support in situ­a­tional aware­ness, orga­ni­za­tion of person­nel and logis­tics, infor­ma­tion and commu­ni­ca­tions tech­nol­ogy, public rela­tions, and finances.

@fire - Inter­na­tionaler Katas­tro­phen­schutz Deutsch­land e. V. is a non-profit civil protec­tion orga­ni­za­tion that has been provid­ing rapid emer­gency aid world­wide follow­ing devas­tat­ing natural disas­ters since 2002. Respon­ders are specially trained in wild­land fire­fight­ing (WFF) and search and rescue of buried victims after earth­quakes (USAR). All of the more than 400 members are involved in national and inter­na­tional disas­ter relief on a volun­tary and unpaid basis. The civil protec­tion orga­ni­za­tion was clas­si­fied as the world’s first Light USAR Team by the United Nations Inter­na­tional Search and Rescue Advi­sory Group (INSARAG) in 2021 and oper­ates accord­ing to inter­na­tional stan­dards. Fund­ing for oper­a­tions, train­ing, and equip­ment is primar­ily donor-funded.

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