"Perfekt!" exclaimed Willi, course leader at AFZ Rostock. I had managed to extinguish the fire he’d deliberately started after pouring petrol into a metal box. Dressed in fireman’s protective clothing, our group was given instructions on how to fight a blaze with foam, powder, CO2 extinguishers and - in this case - a fire blanket.
The fun didn’t stop there, oh no. Four days of intensive safety and security training including a dip in the harbour, wearing a cold water immersion suit and using an evacuation chute. The course is designed for sea-faring service crew with four theory tests and various practical exercises.
Starting at 8am and running till 6pm with just an hour for lunch, it was pretty intensive. The course was in German, with multiple choice tests in English which everyone passed with flying colours. I got to know a few of my colleagues a bit better and although it was pretty exhausting, my German is refreshed and all in all it was very informative and enjoyable.
At first convinced it was a joke, I was dreading the harbour swim. Flashing my Rescue Swimmer and CPR certificates, I tried my hardest to be exempted, but in the end I was glad I wasn’t: the weather was glorious yesterday - the other groups weren’t so lucky. Our huge immersion suits meant that we could keep clothes on and - if desired - shoes, too. The suits were warm, watertight and the attached life jacket acted like a pillow, meaning we could just lie back and float around in total bliss.
The various exercises included a swimming in a collective line - on our backs with legs wide open, clinching the next swimmer between our thighs (far less sensual that suggested owing to immense thickness of the neoprene plus a layer of clothing underneath); forming a survival ‘waffle’ - head to toe with arms positioned over the next swimmers’ legs; climbing on to a life raft and then jumping into the water from the quay: it was low tide, so at least 2m50. Great fun - I could’ve floated around all day.
The evacuation chute was also an adrenaline rush, and besides all this, I also got to pilot a fast rescue boat (saving a ‘person over board’ in the shape of a life ring) and watch my team mates set off flares.
In the evenings, my ritual included a walk through the nearby allotments (see photo): “richtig in Ordnung” with blossoming trees, tulips and neatly sowed beds.
Now safely back in Hamburg with five certificates under my belt and ready to return to the keyboard tomorrow morning.