Fire department in Switzerland: Everything you ever wanted to know about the career and training of the fire department and the more comic firefighting missions
Rescue, fire suppression, recovery, and protection are just a few of the tasks facing the fire department here in Switzerland and all over the world. Even in ancient Egypt there were organized individuals who had the task of putting out fires; the first fire department was established in Rome in 21 BC. Although people who were answerable for fighting fires historically did just that, nowadays they take on a host of various extra tasks. This is mostly because fires on larger scales have reduced starkly in number over the last decades. Have you always wanted to know how the day-to-day of a firefighter looks? We’ll let you in on interesting facts about the occupation, training, and everything else in between!
A few interesting facts about the fire department in Switzerland
- The first organization resembling a fire department in Switzerland existed as early as 1274 in Zurich.
- In Switzerland there are currently around 1,300 firefighting organizations, at which 85,000 firefighters are in service.
- In most districts, the Swiss ‘militia principle’ system means that both men and women are required to serve in the fire department. Anyone who cannot or does not want to perform the fire department duty in the sense of military service has to pay a fee.
- In addition to the militia-based fire departments, there are also professional fire departments (e.g. in large cities or at airports) and company or plant fire departments in Switzerland. Voluntary fire departments are rather rare.
- The emergency services number for the fire department in Switzerland is 118.
How does one become a firefighter in Switzerland?
As a firefighter one dedicates their daily tasks to the protection of humans, animals, as well as material assets. The most frequent areas of expertise and application for the fire department are fighting fire, emergency rescue, repairing power and water damage, environmental protection, but also preventive measures such as fire protection. Around 20% of tasks in total include fighting fires, whereas as the other 80% are dedicated to other types of protection and assistance. The working hours of professional firefighters are irregular and are divided into shifts. Usually a duty tour is 24 hours, followed by a rest period of at least 24 hours. The weekly working time is about 50 to 60 hours.
Training to become a Swiss firefighter
The basic training to become a firefighter takes 18 months and takes place in German-speaking Switzerland at the ‘Höhere Fachschule für Rettungsberufe’ (HRFB) in Zurich. Requirements for the HRFB are a secondary, level II degree (e.g. secondary school exit exams qualification or a completed vocational training with a federal certificate of proficiency), a training position in a fire department, and a category C driver's license. In addition, one should be physically and mentally resilient, flexible, and ready for irregular working hours. Many training positions therefore also require a sports test and an assessment center to determine whether you are suitable for the job. The ideal age for training with the professional fire department is between 23 and 35 years.
Our Top 5 of the most curious firefighting missions
A floating cat and spiderman sightings are just some of the crazy and curious fire department missions to date. We put together our top 5 bizarre firefighter moments for you:
1. The "showering" chicken: In 2017, a bizarre firefighting operation was launched in Switzerland due to a "showering" chicken. Yup, you read it right: a chicken had somehow managed to start a shower which then ran for hours on end without interruption producing a hefty amount of steam, which not only looked like smoke but also triggered an automatic fire alarm. But when the police and fire department arrived at the building, they were able to quickly track down the chicken. However, it is still unclear how exactly the chicken managed to turn on the shower in the first place.
2. Improper waste management: In 2019 in Geesthacht, Germany passers-by noticed a body wrapped dubiously in a white towel floating down the river Elbe; at the end of the wrapped bundle feet pocked out. Shocked by the grim findings, the passers-by alarmed the police. More than 30 emergency service personnel from the fire department, rescue services, water rescue, as well as the police arrived on the scene retrieving the bundle from the water. They were, however, met with relief when the alleged corpse turned out to be a latex toy.
3. Smokey barbecue: In Kirchberg am Wagram in Austria in 2019 a firefighter received an alarm text on his phone concerning a fire. The firefighter quickly realized, however, that the alarm concerned his own bonfire; swiftly informing his colleagues that no emergency service was needed.
4. The mysterious case of the floating cat: In 2016 worried passers-by rang the Düsseldorf fire department because it was supposed that a cat was seen floating down the Rhein on a piece of wood. As the fire department employees set off in their boat to rescue the cat, they realized that it wasn’t a cat but a stuffed marten on a raft made of four plastic bottles.
5. No ordinary firefighter: In Paris 2018, a refugee from Mali saved a baby who was hanging precariously from a balcony. The 22-year-old savior climbed from balcony to balcony on the outside of the building in a matter of seconds until he finally reached the child and brought it to safety. In social networks, the young man was celebrated as "Spiderman" and the "Hero of Paris" and was subsequently accepted into the fire department.
On your marks, get set, go: How firefighting duties became a type of sport
Firefighting is an occupation in which one must be able to cope with both physical and psychological stress. Physical fitness and sport therefore form the important foundations to ensure a firefighters' readiness for action. As to keep oneself fit as a firefighter it’s important to work on high-speed interval training as well as strength and partake in sports that further these areas of fitness. Of course, in addition to this there’s also ‘fire and rescue sports’.
‘Fire and rescue sports‘ are characterized by the compilation of exercises which replicate the activities of firefighters. The disciplines include the so-called fire attack, hook ladder climbing, the 100-meter obstacle course, and the 4 x 100-meter firefighting group relay. Since 2016, both women and men have been able to participate in the sports disciplines (that is, except for hook ladder climbing). In Germany, the group relay for women has established itself as a further discipline. Both national and international competitions have been held in firefighting sports since 1961. And once again on 11.09.2021 the 5th Swiss Fire Department (Fire & Rescue) Competition will also take place in our country!
- Fire attack (wet): The fire attack is a group discipline in which, within the quickest possible time, a fire attack with hoses is simulated.
- Hook ladder climbing: When climbing a hook ladder, the athlete uses a temporary hook ladder to climb up a three-story building.
- 100-meter obstacle course: In the 100-meter obstacle course, a 100-meter track is equipped with fire-engineered obstacles that the athletes have to overcome.
- 4x100-meter obstacle course: Here a 4 x 100-meter relay with fire-technical obstacles is overcome.
- Group relay: In a group relay, the athletes are also expected to perform temporary fire department tasks. The tasks include, among various others, tying the C-hose to a jet pipe, tying knots, and shooting targets with a water jet.
Your fire department photobook!
Whether you're in training, or further along in your professional life, or are partaking in fire and rescue sports with your colleagues, why not capture the best moments in your firefighting career with ifolor? A photo book is just the thing to keep all those memories on your camera and smartphone fresh. Or how about a self-designed photo calendar?