Alina Strickmann

Water on!

Fire brigades drill emergency response on peat fields

Heavy machinery and peat are burning, emergency vehicles have no access: fire services in central Emsland simulated ‘the real thing’ on a Klasmann-Deilmann production company extraction site.

The light but steady rain did not let up: uninterrupted drizzle fell from early Saturday morning into the afternoon. For a short while it seemed the exercise might be called off: a large-scale firefighting drill in the rain? Wet, sticky, slippery peat instead of dusty particles in scorching heat? But then the responders in charge looked at one another and the verdict was unanimous: let’s go ahead with this!

The scenario was realistic: a hot, dry summer increases the risk of a blaze. Dry peat gets into an excavator’s engine compartment and catches fire. Using a fire extinguisher, the excavator operator tries to tackle and contain the blaze but it’s no good, the flames are spreading; now they’re taking hold of the peat field itself; and now stray sparks have reached the storage stacks and they catch fire too.

The fire services are rapidly alerted and the first firefighting unit is soon at the scene. However, the burning excavator is nowhere near the paved roads but in the middle of the peat extraction pit. The emergency vehicles can’t reach it. Now procedural familiarity kicks in, as the fire brigade has drilled this countless times. Hoses stretching several hundred metres have to be unrolled, generators transported into the field and the water tanks connected up. In the meantime, the fire has spread further, additional fire brigades are called out, and before long more and more firefighters from the surrounding communities are at the scene. Fortunately, it’s not long before the all-clear is given: the blaze is under control and the excavator fire has already been put out.

So as to be ideally prepared for this or a similar scenario, Klasmann-Deilmann’s production company Produktionsgesellschaft Süd recently joined forces with fire services from the surrounding area to stage an emergency drill.

Peatland Operations Supervisor Heinz Post met the competent fire brigade (the Groß Hesepe unit) at the agreed meeting place on the edge of the northern field. They then all proceeded onto the site via the paved roads. Dieter Einhaus, the responding officer in charge, decided that the following were also necessary and had them called out: water tenders from Osterbrock and Schöninghsdorf, a fire engine from Twist, and the command vehicle from Osterbrock. Soon there were more than 40 responders at the scene. Klasmann-Deilmann provided a tractor equipped for peat field operation, which towed a ‘sledge’ – loaded up with firehoses, generators and other necessary equipment – right out into the peat extraction pit. After a remarkably short time, the first water was already flowing through the hoses and operations to put out the imaginary fire began. An additional 8,000 litres of water for firefighting were transported onto the site by rail tanker.

The fire services also experienced one of the common peat field pitfalls: one of the fire engines left the paved road and sank into the peat. But the tractor was soon there to pull it out.

By around noon, the exercise had been successfully completed and the equipment gathered together, cleaned and stowed away. Present for the subsequent debriefing were Peatland Operations Supervisor Heinz Post, Christoph Wallmeyer (Procurement Services), responding officer in charge Dieter Einhaus, Heinz Lübbers (fire safety inspector at the Emsland municipal authority), local fire chief Heinz Grüter, head of section Wolfgang Veltrup and municipal fire chief Günter Keiser. Michael Perschl, Managing Director of Produktionsgesellschaft Süd, thanked each crew member of the participating fire services for their committed and successful response.

“Although we hope for the best – in other words, that the ‘real thing’ never happens – it’s important for us to prepare for the worst,” says Michael Perschl. “We learn from one another, we familiarise ourselves with the demands of the site and with everyone’s roles, and we identify critical procedural aspects to work on – we get better each time. It’s good to know that these fire services are always close at hand.”

What prompted this fire exercise was two unusually dry summers in succession. In the summer of 2018, the conditions resulted in an extensive peatland blaze affecting a military technical site in the ‘Tinner Dose’ area near Meppen. And, in 2019, fires broke out on sites in Lithuania and at a peatland area (‘Esterweger Dose’) under restoration.