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German firefighters help Banks with training

Cultural exchange focuses on firefighting technique, advanced technology


The Banks Fire Department hosted firefighter Hubert Schorn from their sister city of Mössingen, Germany last Monday for the first time since the beginning of the exchange program in 1998.

Representatives from the Banks Fire team exchanged gifts with Schorn as part of their welcome, including fire department apparel, medallions and books.

Gerry Veley and Steve Harr of Banks co-founded the partnership 15 years ago with Mössingen, a small rural agricultural community similar in size to Banks. Throughout the year, the Banks and Mössingen fire departments exchange information about challenges particularly relevant to stations of their size and resources, “so we can learn from each other,” Veley said.

The Banks Fire Department covers 136 square miles and relies on about 60 volunteer firefighters, only paying their Chief Brian Coussens and Training Officer Levi Eckhart. The majority of its calls, as much as 80 percent, are related to medical issues, but firefighters prepare for every conceivable kind of fire with weekly drills and training.

While the Banks department responds to about 500 calls in a year, Mössingen department officials estimate they go on about six.

Veley said discussions of firefighting technology, rural firefighting and effectively recruiting volunteer firefighters have been especially fruitful.

Veley also has a personal connection to the German town, where he lived for years with his grandmother, attended a university and became fluent in German.

He still visits often, and members of the Mössingen department welcome firefighters from Banks if they decide to visit the town of just more than 20,000 in the south of Germany, hosting them at their homes.

Harr made the trek several years ago and is glad of it. “I’ve made some lifelong friends out of it,” he said. “You get to see how they do things over there. It opens your eyes.”

Harr toured Mössingen and the station, hosted by a firefighter family who also took him to Paris and Switzerland.

Veley hosted Schorn and his wife last week on their first visit to America and the Banks Fire Department. The two hit most of the top tourist stops — the Oregon Coast, Portland, Multnomah Falls and Mount Hood, features of a rural landscape that didn’t seem that foreign to the visitors.

“Mössingen is thousands of miles away, but in a way, we’re not all that different,” Harr said.




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