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The Bavarian mountain rescue service: between mountain accidents and edelweiss theft

by Kristian Rath • 10/25/2017
Friday evening, 7.30 p.m.: Handover of the report at the Bad Hindelang mountain rescue service. I'm now on standby for a week. That means being ready for action in case someone in our service area gets into mountain trouble. This means that I stay at home or in the vicinity of the mountain rescue depot for a week, except when I'm working.

There are six of us. Four mountain rescuers, one head of operations and one trainee. Three work within a five to ten-minute drive of the mountain rescue depot and three work a little further away. Pretty much anything can happen in our service area in the Allgäu Alps, with the exception of typical glacier accidents. If a helicopter is needed, you should be ready for take-off at the landing site in about ten minutes. As my workplace is just under 30 kilometers away, I'm usually out of the way on missions during the week. I also work as an observer for the Bavarian Avalanche Warning Service in winter, so I miss out on other missions. I've been a member of the Bad Hindelang Mountain Rescue Service for 25 years now. One way or another, a lot of things come together.

How does a mission work?

An accident happens somewhere in the Allgäu. The person involved in the accident or witnesses dial the emergency number on their cell phone and are connected to the Allgäu Integrated Control Center (ILS Allgäu) if a German network is available. Based on the report image, the control centre decides which rescue organization is alerted, e.g. fire department, water rescue, Red Cross or the mountain rescue service. Roughly speaking, the mountain rescue service is alerted if the accident site cannot be reached by normal vehicles. The control centre triggers the radio alarm of the relevant organization. The alarm receiver rings and the incident commander contacts the control center. The mountain rescue workers on duty rush to the depot and decide what to do. Depending on the report, a helicopter or an emergency doctor is requested.

The mission begins. It can be anything from an unspectacular transport of a slightly injured person by car to a difficult rescue from a rock face. The necessary maneuvers are regularly practiced by the active mountain rescuers. Both medically and technically.

In winter, at least four mountain rescuers are stationed in the Oberjoch ski area, and six at weekends. So you can assume that something happens regularly. The higher transport capacity of the lifts and the hard artificial snow also contribute to an increase in the number of accidents. The same applies to the toboggan run. Accidents can also be expected there every weekend. Rescue is usually carried out by snowmobile.

What are the prerequisites for a mountain guide?

  • Regular and enjoy being out and about in the mountains.

  • Sure-footedness, a head for heights, fitness

  • Above-average skiing ability, both on the piste and off-piste

  • Experience in alpine(!!) climbing with grade IV or higher lead climbing

  • and not forgetting: Curiosity/interest, sociability and time

  • At least 16 years of age

How does the training work?

You join a mountain rescue team as a candidate. Provided you are physically fit and have the right character, you then undergo the training shown in the diagram below.

Why all this?

As an active mountaineer, you can get into trouble yourself and are then dependent on people to help you out in an emergency. From a human point of view alone, you can't simply leave people who have had an accident lying around if there is a possibility of rescuing them. You also receive good training, which you can also use for yourself as a mountaineer. Not to forget the social component, the togetherness with like-minded people and also some nice "Feschtle" (as they say in the Allgäu).

Legally anchored

The Bavarian Mountain Rescue Service provides rescue services in the alpine areas, in impassable areas and in caves. In special cases, it also supplements the other rescue service units outside their operational areas. It is commissioned by the special-purpose associations for rescue services and fire department alarms to provide rescue services on the basis of the Bavarian Rescue Services Act and public law contracts.

Difference between mountain rescue/mountain rescue

The different terms used in Bavaria and Austria are often confused. In Bavaria, rescue from alpine terrain is carried out by the mountain rescue service. In Austria, however, this task is carried out by the mountain rescue service. There is also a mountain rescue service in Austria. However, it only carries out nature conservation tasks.

Nature and environmental protection

Even though rescue is clearly the top priority in the alpine rescue teams in the Allgäu and Oberland regions, it should not be completely forgotten that Bergwacht Bayern has set itself the task of ensuring that all trainees and members of the organization have comprehensive local knowledge and above-average knowledge of the natural environment in their areas of responsibility. This enables them to reflect on their own behavior when mountaineering and carrying out missions and to behave in a nature-friendly and environmentally conscious manner.

The Bergwacht Bayern motivates personalities in its ranks to inspire mountaineers and nature enthusiasts for nature and its protection in addition to their work in the mountain and cave rescue service. One of the great achievements of the Bergwacht is to have saved the rich stocks of edelweiss in the Allgäu Alps from being plundered and destroyed. It is important to note that in the 1930s, edelweiss was held in incredibly high esteem by the local population. Locals plundered the edelweiss stocks and sold them to tourists in Oberstdorf. Tourists also tried their luck and often got into trouble in the mountains. The bridge between nature conservation and rescue work was thus quickly established. Today, the theft of edelweiss is no longer a relevant issue. As a result, the nature conservation post on the Höfats is no longer occupied.

History of the mountain rescue service

Almost 100 years ago - in 1920 to be precise - a few men from Munich founded the first German mountain rescue service. Their aim was to restore "purpose, order, morality and decency" to the mountain world after the catastrophic conditions in the mountains following the First World War.

In Hindelang, a document from the local Alpine Club read:
...there are also people hanging around in the mountains who you wouldn't want there. Red revolutionary riff-raff, fornicators, nature abusers, huts and camp thieves......

Just a few months later, the Red Cross founded the Mountain Accident Service. This was an association of paramedics. In the mid-1960s, the regional mountain rescue associations joined forces at a national level to form a working group. This community gave rise to the Federal Committee of the Mountain Rescue Service of the German Red Cross. This continues to this day.

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This article has been automatically translated by DeepL with subsequent editing. If you notice any spelling or grammatical errors or if the translation has lost its meaning, please write an e-mail to the editors.

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