The German relief organ­i­sa­tion @fire was the first inter­na­tional search and rescue team in the “Light” cate­gory to be clas­si­fied by the United Nations (UN) in recent days. For this purpose, a 20-member rescue team went through a large-scale inter­na­tional exer­cise last­ing several days for a rescue oper­a­tion after earth­quakes in Switzerland.

A devas­tat­ing 7.1 magni­tude earth­quake shook the Repub­lic of Jureneva at 9:36 am local time on Sunday morn­ing. The local govern­ment esti­mates at least 2,300 injured and 1,000 dead. Around 1,230 people are miss­ing in the more than 1,500 collapsed build­ings. This is the scenario of exer­cise “INSIEME 21” of the UN’s Inter­na­tional Search and Rescue Advi­sory Group (INSARAG).

After an initial situ­a­tion assess­ment by the @fire home staff, the @fire rescue team is alerted and mobilised on Sunday. The special­ists for biolog­i­cal and tech­ni­cal detec­tion as well as for tech­ni­cal rescue, a construc­tion consul­tant, three rescue dogs, logis­ti­cians and other disas­ter special­ists gather for the final equip­ment check and medical exam­i­na­tions at the rescue centre in Wald­kirch (BW). On Monday morn­ing, the team finally moves to the assumed area of oper­a­tion, a train­ing area of the Swiss army in Epeisses near Geneva (Switzer­land). Once there, the first task is to start up the Reception/Departure Centre (RDC), through which all arriv­ing rescue teams are received and regis­tered. At the same time, a small tent city will be set up as a base of oper­a­tions for the @fire team. The base serves as a self-suffi­cient accom­mo­da­tion and oper­a­tions centre, from which the indi­vid­ual oper­a­tions sites are approached.

After a first recon­nais­sance of the area of oper­a­tion, the first oper­a­tion site is still to be dealt with on Monday evening. With the rescue dogs as well as tech­ni­cal locat­ing equip­ment, a miss­ing person in a collapsed house has to be located and freed by means of a break­through. Late into the night, the disas­ter relief work­ers are busy with the rescue before return­ing to their Base of Oper­a­tions for a short night’s rest.

Further response sites at vari­ous collapsed build­ings will follow on Tues­day and during the night of Wednes­day. More miss­ing persons have to be found and rescued and given first aid by means of verti­cal and hori­zon­tal break­throughs through steel-rein­forced concrete and by using pneu­matic lift­ing bags, a winch or rope tech­nol­ogy. Build­ing outrig­gers and work­ing with a crane are also among the tasks.

More than 30 asses­sors from 23 coun­tries and inter­na­tional observers eval­u­ate the disas­ter relief work­ers accord­ing to the INSARAG Guide­lines. In addi­tion to the first-time clas­si­fi­ca­tion of @fire as a Light Team, the Heavy Team “Swiss Rescue” from Switzer­land and the Medium Team “PUI” from France will also be recer­ti­fied during INSIEME21.

After the success­ful comple­tion of the rescue work on Wednes­day morn­ing, the INSARAG repre­sen­ta­tives were finally able to present the @fire forces with the offi­cial certifi­cate. This makes the aid organ­i­sa­tion @fire the 58th clas­si­fied USAR team and the first search and rescue team in the world to go through the clas­si­fi­ca­tion as a light team.

“We started work­ing on the topic of USAR almost 16 years ago. With mile­stones in Haiti, Nepal and Beirut. We have not only become a member of the inter­na­tional USAR commu­nity, but have also set the tone with the devel­op­ment of a Light USAR team,” says @fire chair­man Jan Südmersen proudly. “As a light team, we are the rapid spear­head of inter­na­tional relief after devas­tat­ing natural disasters.”


As a United Nations organ­i­sa­tion, the Inter­na­tional Search and Rescue Advi­sory Group (INSARAG) coor­di­nates and stan­dard­ises inter­na­tional coop­er­a­tion in the field of Urban Search and Rescue (USAR), i.e. search and rescue after natural disas­ters such as earth­quakes. All rescue teams must undergo INSARAG Exter­nal Clas­si­fi­ca­tion (IEC) and regu­lar Reclas­si­fi­ca­tions (IER) in one of the three clas­si­fi­ca­tion levels - light, medium or heavy USAR team. In Germany, the German Federal Agency for Tech­ni­cal Relief (THW) has so far been clas­si­fied as a Heavy Team and the aid organ­i­sa­tion “ISAR Germany” as a Medium Team. The clas­si­fi­ca­tion level “light” was devel­oped with the find­ings of the rescue oper­a­tion after the earth­quake in Nepal in 2015 within INSARAG with the partic­i­pa­tion of @fire.

A Light Team consists of at least 17 disas­ter relief work­ers, a Medium Team requires at least 40 and a Heavy Team at least 59. Accord­ing to INSARAG guide­lines, a Light USAR team can carry out search and rescue oper­a­tions in collapsed build­ings made of wood and unre­in­forced masonry, as well as in build­ings rein­forced with steel rein­force­ment. It must also be able to lift, roll, push or hoist debris using a crane, winch or hoist. A light USAR team must be able to carry out 12-hour oper­a­tions at one site over five days.