20 minutes – Firefighters change tactics, “but we hold on”

Since the introduction of semi-containment measures, the operational load remains normal, judge Nicolas Schumacher, commander of the Fire and Rescue Service (SIS) of Geneva. And this, even if the firefighters record an increase in health support operations, for example to vacate via our scales sick people, and this, the request of the paramedics. But the officer reassures: We are holding on! He specifies that many volunteer sappers are also permanently engaged on several sites, in the context of this crisis.

The demands of social distancing, however, forced fire professionals to adapt their methods in the field. Especially when a disaster breaks out in a residential building. In these circumstances, the intervention train – the number of vehicles and staff engaged – is more significant than before. With confinement, there are obviously more people in the apartments, which prompted us to revise our means upwards, in the perspective, for example, of a vacancy in a building, explains Major Schumacher.

Rescue operations revisited

The management of wounded nests also needs to be rethought. Instead of concentrating people in one place, we multiply the treatment areas; or else, the victims are dispersed on a larger perimeter, specifies the head of the SIS. If this is not possible, the people rescued are then all equipped with protective masks. Another change in practice: the hoods with filter, supplied to some victims during evacuations during a fire, could be used several times during the same operation. From now on, they are single use, to avoid contaminations.

Life in barracks is also suffering the consequences of the pandemic. Door handles, vertical bars to reach vehicles or elevator buttons, everything is disinfected several times a day, specifies the SIS. In the kitchen, the menus are prepared with masks and gloves, the dining hall has been enlarged and the meal times shifted to respect safety distances. Finally, two floors of the neighboring school of the SIS barracks, Plainpalais, were requisitioned. They now host the crisis management command post, which notably includes the fire department of the ORCA system (Organization in the event of a disaster or exceptional situation).

The situations are complex, but our priorities – protecting the population – remain unchanged, supports Commander Nicolas Schumacher. Our staff is sufficient to best accomplish our missions.


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