24 Hour Shift

24 Hour Shift

A while ago I had the opportunity to join the Fire Station ‚Feuer- und Rettungswache Innenstadt‘ on their 24 hour shifts. Although I did not stay the whole 24 hours, I gained insight into the amazing work these guys do.

The WF11 is allocated to the Red Light District of St. Pauli. I have spent two relatively quiet Friday and Saturday nights with the Rescue Service of the Fire Station. Although they told me it was ‚quiet‘ nights, I got to see and experience what these shifts are about.

It is about helping people of course. But it is also about a team spirit and having someones back in a way that you barely get to see these days. It is about assisting people in emotional distress, in a situation of helplessness, in a situation of pain. Regardless what social status people have – they will help you, especially in situations when others will turn around in fear or disgust and leave.

This is the ideally imagery of the job routine. And the reality did hit me harder than I had expected.

During the first hours of waiting on call, I got to have deep conversations with the guys. Of course we talked about the basic questions: why are they doing this, what it is that’s keeping them going, the weirdest assignments they had…. Regardless of working at the station that is allocated to the most infamous district of Hamburg, they all told me the same. That people in the city are not able anymore to live or survive on their own. They are very quick to decide to call the emergency service for all kinds of despairs – from itchy mosquito bites or bleeding nail beds to help find something in their home or to break up domestic fights. People call the emergency services out of fear and loneliness, dependent on the aid of others. Or maybe just to make sure, just the hear the words “It’ll be alright”.

Later into the nights, our main area of operations was Reeperbahn and the surrounding streets. I have the uttermost respect for this kind of work. I was there as an observer, documenting the night. I did not expect the outrageous disrespect and ignorance the colleagues face at times. People under the influence of alcohol and drugs are unpredictable and can develop extreme strength and aggressions. You have to rely on your knowledge, your observations and your team mate.You have to be able to read the people and always be prepared for the unexpected and still keep your willingness and passion to help.

We picked up heavily boozed men and women, who got called on the rescue services by strangers, because they were helpless outside at freezing temperatures or even passed out. That is a daily routine, bringing them to the hospital where they stay for a while – until they get released only to hit the bottle hard again and find themselves back at the same hospital the next day.

We were called to party crowds where friends were comatose – just to pick up the poor guy so that the others can keep on the heavy partying.

We also picked up young guys with a clear immigration background, not being able to communicate in German or English, heavily intoxicated, helpless, screaming and crying in this unfamiliar world of St. Pauli.

I think I heard the words ‚Thank You‘ only twice these nights. Once we helped a girl that was apparently introduced to Date-Rape-Drugs and her worried friends did accompany her to the hospital. The second time was at the Beatles Square, when we checked on a guy’s girlfriend that was clearly too drunk to walk.

I think people take it as a matter of course, something they can take and consume without questioning. Selfish and without being grateful. Always expect it to be your right and your privilege.

I found myself at one point among a fist fight just in front of the rescue van and nearly lost my camera. I got screamed at, threatened and physically approached by strangers although being accompanied by the rescue services. And after these adrenaline infused nights, I want to say with these words and just a few photos from these nights: