The clean solution

Behind every mask is a person

An interview with Silvio

Whether he is herding bison in South Dakota or visiting the Barbarossa Monument in Thuringia, Silvio is loving life on four wheels. This helpful firefighter finds joy in motivated young people in the youth fire service and in gummy bears.

Silvio, what did you get up to last weekend?
I went quad biking with my wife and 10-year-old son. We cruised around the countryside surrounding Apolda and enjoyed being out in nature.

How did you start riding quad bikes?
When I was 21, I went to South Dakota with some friends from Apolda voluntary fire service. We went to visit our twin fire service in Rapid City. On one occasion, we took a quad bike to Mount Rushmore, where four presidents are carved into the rock face. It was incredible to see it in person. On a more recent visit, I was able to watch a buffalo roundup with my wife Monique and with Aiden, who was six at the time. The bison are rounded up using pick-up trucks and quad bikes, along with cowboys on horseback. Some of the bulls are auctioned off while the mothers and calves are released. It is a real spectacle. You're full of adrenaline. I was a fan of quad bikes from the first moment I sat on one, so I bought one at home in Germany.

And your wife and son caught the quad biking and firefighting bugs from you?
Aiden isn't my biological son. He was 2½ when Monique and I got together. He started calling me ‘daddy’ six months after that. He has been busying around with a miniature hose playing firefighter since he was three. When he turned six and was finally old enough to join the kids troop of the youth fire service, he was so proud of his uniform! Now he's ten and still hugely enjoying all the exercises with the other children. My wife works shifts. Since she joined Apolda voluntary fire service, we go through periods where we see more of each other there than at home! Firefighting and quad biking just appealed to us so much.

Silvio, if you could turn back time, what year would you go back to?
I would go back to being 15 or 16. With what I know today, there's definitely a few things I would have done differently then.

That sounds like you maybe missed an opportunity that still bothers you?
Yes. After my basic apprenticeship, I just wanted to start working rather than continue training for a higher qualification. I then did my master builder qualification three years ago, alongside my work as a bricklayer. It was really hard work. But I managed to complete the course within a year and now I am self-employed with my own construction company.

Who inspires you?
My parents. They taught me that there is always a way and you can do anything if you work for it. My dad also taught me a lot about working with my hands. He apprenticed me to be a bricklayer. These days, we've swapped places and he works for me!

How is that?
We get on well at work. We often have disagreements at home though. My parents live with us. We extended to build them their own flat so I could give something back to them straight away. That way, they can enjoy their pensions more when they get them.

What childhood stories do your parents still like to tell about you?
When I was little, my mum baked a cake and put it on the windowsill to cool. I was feeling curious and I got such a shock when I touched it that the hot tray and the cake ended up in the street. A neighbour walking past asked whether he should bring us some coffee to go with that cake! My mum was good humoured about the whole thing.

What do you look forward to when you come home from work?
I look forward to seeing my wife if she's not working a late shift! And I look forward to activities with Aiden. He's ten and we often do crafts together or build something in the garden. When we extended the house, I showed him how to plaster over the cables to the plug sockets. The idea is that he learns something, gets involved, and can be proud of his own work when it's finished. That's how my dad did it with me and my big brother.

‘There's a lot still to be done in the equipment rooms. Often, the clean and dirty sides are not separated because there isn't enough space. We try to protect ourselves as well as we can. None of us wants to get cancer down the line.’

What would you like to introduce at the voluntary fire service? And it would be obligatory.
I would like to see the voluntary fire servicereceive more recognition for our work. These days, it's normal for people to stick two fingers up at us if we close a road. The council could appreciate us properly with free swimming or gym access rather than bus and museum passes. We attend around 300 call-outs per year. That can be anything from fires to accidents, mobility assistance, false alarms, getting cats down from trees and even rescuing families of ducks!

Rescuing families of ducks?!
Yup! Once, nine firefighters were occupied for an hour fishing a duck and her ducklings out of a half-full pool. The ducklings couldn't get out on their own. Our remit grows every year. We get called to remove oil from country roads and to help paramedics carry patients – even at night.

Do you sometimes feel abandoned and exploited?
Things just wouldn't function without us volunteer firefighters. It would be very nice to get a bit of recognition from politicians and the public. But even though things aren't perfect, the ability to be there for other people and to help is what motivates me. I will never forget one occasion after fighting a fire, when a little girl pushed her way through the crowd to share her gummy bears. That was the loveliest way to say thank you in that moment.

Is there anything in the fire service that you would like to do away with?
Austerity. More money must be made available for fire services. In Germany, only 10% of firefighters work for a professional fire service. The other 90% are volunteers. There's a lot still to be done in the equipment rooms, too. Often, the clean and dirty sides are not separated because there isn't enough space. We try to protect ourselves as well as we can. None of us wants to get cancer down the line.

With all of these difficulties, what is your motivation to continue your commitment to the fire service?
I like to be there for people and I like to help. Plus the fire service is like a big family. We all help each other out. I experienced that for myself when I was renovating our home. One Saturday in May, I found 15 colleagues standing in my garden at 9 am! Everyone dived into the work and at 2 pm, the whole roof was covered and sealed with a tarpaulin. After that, there was food and drink for everyone. We have a lot of socials, too. We have a men's day when we order a hog roast and meet up with our families. I wouldn't want to go without that.

Silvio's fire service is one of many struggling with  limited space. And yet, separating clean and dirty areas is vital to preventing contamination. This is what separating clean and dirty sides can look like.

Cancer in firefighters

For more than ten years, MEIKO has been developing appliances with fire services, for services to clean and disinfect respiratory protective and other fire service equipment. SCBA technicians especially benefit from cleaning and disinfection solutions for respiratory protective equipment.

MEIKO Protect solution for the SCBA workshop