Forchheim surrounded by the regnitz arm and the rhine-main-danube canal, directly on the idyllic lock island, lies the operations center of the german life-saving society (DLRG) local association forchheim. In front of an inconspicuous shed, technical manager mario grobkopf and two colleagues present the rescue service’s fleet of vehicles. Dinghy, rescue boat and several emergency vehicles are freshly cleaned in the small courtyard. But none of the boats have been launched since the beginning of march.
The reason, on the one hand it was very quiet on the waters around forchheim in the past months, on the other hand there were training cancellations at the DLRG due to the new coronavirus.
Training has to be cancelled
"In the swimming training area, all courses had to be cancelled" according to the 29-year-old volunteer, who rescues people and animals from water in his spare time. The swimming courses for all age groups are normally held in the konigsbad in forchheim. Due to the closure of the pool due to corona, the courses had to be canceled since march. "This means big financial losses for us. We get our income from the swimming and first aid courses, as well as from the rescue swimmer training" declares matthias kestler, treasurer and operational diver of the DLRG forchheim.
"The only thing that is now slowly being restarted is the education and training of the rapid response group SEG. For rescue operations, the swimmers swim in real water, i.E. In a canal or a quarry pond. With the necessary distance of course" so grobkopf. The SEG is the group of emergency personnel that is called out in the event of an emergency. Your area of operation is the waters in the district of forchheim. "But we are also called upon on a supra-regional basis if necessary" grobkopf continues. The volunteers of the DLRG forchheim were also on the scene during the snow disaster in southern bavaria in 2019 and the shipwreck in erlangen in september 2016.
More bathing deaths feared
Now grobkopf and his colleagues are preparing for the coming weeks. Because the whitsun vacations are just around the corner and the weather promises the start of the swimming season. Not until 8. June, in the second week of the vacation, the bavarian open-air baths are allowed to open. However, only under stricter security regulations. It seems easier for bathing enthusiasts to cool off in the meadow or in one of the many quarry ponds in the district.
While a swimming supervisor is on duty at the konigsbad, most lakes do not have a supervisor who could intervene in an emergency. "The DLRG forchheim keeps watch at the lock island on weekends during the summer months. After all, we have the rhine-main-danube canal right under our noses, but otherwise we don’t guard any water" explains ralf gugel. The man from forchheim has been a member of the DLRG for 40 years and is chairman of the forchheim local association.
"Only when water is involved in an emergency call are we and the water rescue team also alerted." But gugel has made the experience that it can then already be too late: "often an operation begins with a person already being missing. Somewhere there are only a few shoes left on the canal. It can take a long time to find a missing person. For days. Then, however, the probability is high that the person can unfortunately only be recovered dead."
95 people drowned in bavaria alone in 2019. The state of bavaria leads the statistics for germany as a whole.
Strong currents on the canal
"Insecure and poor swimmers often overestimate their abilities, which can lead to swimming accidents technical operations manager grobkopf says and adds: "in our district, the rhine-main-danube canal is a particularly dangerous place to swim, because this area is used by commercial shipping. Despite the ban on swimming there, we repeatedly see people going into the water directly in front of the sluice gate. Extreme currents can be caused by ships or the opening of locks."
But most of the lakes in the county are also closed to bathers. "The dredging lakes are almost all privately owned, most of them fenced off. A fishing club doesn’t like it when strangers swim on its private property" reports grobkopf.
Corona has added another risk factor this year: since the start of the pandemic at the beginning of march, the children’s swimming courses have been cancelled. "Children between the ages of six and ten are therefore a special risk group this year" heibt es in a press release of the DLRG bayern.
Commitment in times of corona
A rescue mission always involves certain risks – even for trained rescue workers. In times of a pandemic, the risk of infection is added: "we have guidelines from the federal association on how a rescue operation must proceed under corona conditions. The rules are similar to those that the general public is familiar with: we wear protective clothing, masks, and gloves. But already with the revival it becomes difficult" explains gugel.
The task forces were trained, the vehicles equipped with hygiene plans, reports grobkopf. "We try to do as little swimming as possible. But that is not always possible."
Rules of etiquette for the swimming pool
In order to avoid the need for rescue operations, the DLRG bavaria has issued rules of conduct for swimming in open water. Even at the quarry pond there is a need to keep a distance. Whether in the water or on the lawn, the rule is 1.5 to two meters away from the next sunbather.
Prohibition and instruction signs should be heeded at all costs. Quarry lakes can have steep banks, which means that after the shallow water entrance, the bottom of the lake drops off steeply. "Such prohibitions have good reasons, mainly nature protection or danger spots" according to the DLRG.
In forchheim, the rhine-main-danube canal in particular is considered dangerous, with rubbing currents and cold temperatures crippling even the muscular strength of experienced swimmers.
Parents should always keep an eye on their children. If the baby’s swimming lessons were several months ago, they should not play alone in the water.
If a swimming accident does occur, matthias kestler from the DLRG in forchheim assures: "you know that we are always there for you in an emergency."