“Fire! There’s a fire!” Sandra, who was eating breakfast at her in-laws’ home, saw flames coming out from under the door of a shed next to the house. She and Thomas, her husband, quickly jumped into action. While Sandra got the fire extinguisher, Thomas ran to the shed to investigate. Sandra hurried to give Thomas the fire extinguisher, and he put the fire out. She recalls: “If we had not intervened, the whole shed could have burned down.”

How did Thomas and Sandra avoid panic and act so decisively? They, along with some 1,000 other volunteers who work at the branch office of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Selters, Germany, have been taught how to handle fire emergencies.

The 30-hectare (70 a.) facility in Selters includes not only offices and residences but also a laundry, a printery, and various workshops​—areas that carry unique risks of fire. Therefore, the branch’s Safety and Environment Department set up a program to teach fire safety. First, a group known as the Emergency Response Team practices with the local fire department. Second, all branch volunteers regularly do the following:

  • Practice evacuation drills.

  • Participate in fire safety lessons.

  • Learn to fight a fire in its early stages.

Thus, volunteers acquire skills that are indispensable during emergencies.

Practicing Safe Firefighting

During practice sessions, participants learn to fight fire safely. Christin, who had last learned about fire safety in elementary school, describes a training drill at the branch: “I grabbed the fire extinguisher, unlocked it, and approached the fire from the upwind side. Otherwise the flames could have blown into my face. Then I put the fire out​—all by myself! I also learned how to fight a fire with a team of four or five people.”

Practice sessions “reduce the fear of fire,” says Daniel, who works at the branch office as a fire safety trainer. He explains: “When fire breaks out, people are often stunned. They feel apprehensive, thinking, ‘What are we supposed to do? How do we handle a fire extinguisher?’ But if they know what to do, they can easily prevent a small fire from growing into an inferno.” During training, he says, “participants acquire the know-how to hold the fire extinguisher properly in an emergency and to put out the fire. They gain confidence and develop the courage to jump into action when needed.”

Training Pays Off

Many express gratitude for the training. Christin, quoted earlier, admits: “I held a fire extinguisher in my hands for the first time. I think everyone should get training like this.” Nadja, who volunteers part-time at the branch office and also works at an airport, relates: “Over the past ten years, I have had only theoretical fire safety lessons at the airport. But the practical training at the branch office made me feel more confident. If a fire breaks out, I will know what to do.”

Sandra believes that her training at the branch office equipped her to act quickly at her in-laws’ home. “I have become less apprehensive about using a fire extinguisher,” she says. “It’s good to have training every year. It definitely helped me.”

Practicing With the Local Fire Department

The local fire department holds regular practice sessions on the branch office premises. Head firefighter Theo Neckermann explains why: “Our fire department is responsible for the municipality of Selters, a rural area. We usually handle fire emergencies in family homes or flats. The branch office facilities are unique to the region because of the large property, the huge buildings, and the industrial nature of the work. We need to acquire additional skills to handle emergencies at this facility. Therefore, we are glad and grateful to practice here.”

The more than 100 members of the branch’s Emergency Response Team practice rescue operations and fire drills along with the fire department. Says Mr. Neckermann: “We admire your Emergency Response Team. Without their help and direction, fire drills and fire emergency operations would not run as smoothly.”

Demonstrating the danger of trying to extinguish burning oil with water

The fire department and the Emergency Response Team showed their mettle one evening in February 2014. An entire apartment in one of the branch residence buildings became filled with smoke. “The smoke was so dense that we could not see our hands in front of our faces,” recalls Daniel, quoted earlier. “We immediately contacted the fire department and started evacuating all 88 apartments. When the fire department arrived, we had already vacated the entire building.” Mr. Neckermann says: “I can’t imagine evacuating such a huge building so quickly in a city like Frankfurt. You people were highly disciplined, and your Emergency Response Team was super!” The firefighters identified the hazard and removed it. Nobody was injured, and no serious damage occurred.

All at the branch office in Selters hope that a serious fire emergency will never occur. But if it does, the volunteers are prepared because they have learned how to win the fight against fire.