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Refugees 'become German' through voluntary fire fighting

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Refugees 'become German' through voluntary fire fighting
Sudanese refugee Jalal Daoud, now a member of a small-town fire department. Photo: DPA
13:04 CEST+02:00
Voluntary fire departments across Germany are desperate for recruits. More than a few are looking to refugees to stock up this 'very German' service.

Jalal Daoud has pulled the visor of his helmet down over his face. He quickly spreads a large yellow canvas on the ground and fetches scissors from the truck.

He is training together with the other members of the Flechtorf fire service in Lower Saxony.

Only a short while ago Daoud didn't know a thing about fire rescue. But that's almost impossible to tell from watching him work.

The 31-year-old is a refugee from Sudan.

He's far from alone in arriving in the Bundesrepublik after fleeing conflict and volunteering to save lives. The German Fire Service Association (Deutsche Feuerwehrverband) knows of around 50 fire departments across Germany whose members include refugees.

As recruitment numbers sink, the fire service sees refugees as an opportunity to fight wavering enthusiasm among locals.

Daoud lived in Sudan until his father was shot dead by police pushing him to flee to Europe.

He made his way on foot towards Libya, an 800-kilometre journey, working first as a shepherd and then as a cook.

But on the road Daoud was caught without a passport and spent eight months in prison.

Once he was out and finally had enough money for the trip, he got on an inflatable raft and arrived three days later at the Italian island of Lampedusa. He was lucky - four of the raft's passengers didn't survive the journey.

Eight years after he set off, Daoud arrived in Germany and was placed with a host family in Flechtorf, near Wolfsburg.

“Darfur is ruled with tyranny,” he said upon his arrival. “You can get executed at any time.”

The small town's fire service quickly caught his eye, and his host mother helped him to get in contact with them.

Daoud began initial training in February and took part in his first operation in May - a traffic collision.

“I was nervous but it worked out well,” he says.

He still has some difficulty with the German language. For the test at the end of his fire training he had someone sitting beside him and helping him understand the questions. But what he's really good at is the work itself.

“[The] work is good. I don't find any of it difficult,” he admits.

Two years after arriving in Germany, Daoud is now one of 30 active members of the Flechtorf fire service.

Local fire chief Ralf Sprang explains that there have been fire department staff shortages across Lower Saxony, which is one of the reasons why he went forward with employing Daoud.

“I would do it again anytime,” he says today. “I see no limit for us.”

Sprang isn't the only one employing refugees. Around 50 other fire departments in Germany have done the same.

“It won't solve all our staff shortage problems overnight,” says Silvia Darmstädter of the German Fire Service Association. “But it's a step in the right direction.”

She also says that it helps with the integration of refugees.

The fire service is “more than an emergency response unit”, she explains. “It's a team, a fellowship, and something really German.”

Daoud already knows what constitutes being “German.” Before he set out on his first operation, he helped out at the Easter bonfire and was present when the May pole was being erected.

“It's as if he's always been a part of the whole,” says Sprang. “Nobody on either side has any reservations.”

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