The series of floods that struck central Europe in 2002 and 2013 were the worst of the century. They had serious effects in Austria, the Czech Republic, and Germany, where Dresden was repeatedly inundated. Looking back at pictures from the German floods, it’s hard not to notice the many people in distinctive blue and yellow uniforms providing help and restoring essential services.
These are members of the Bundesanstalt Technisches Hilfswerk (THW), the federal technical assistance department, consisting almost entirely of volunteers.
The THW was formed in the 1950s, at the height of the Cold War, to assist the public if a real war broke out. As part of the country’s civil defence system, it specialises in supplying emergency technical and logistical support. Its huge and varied collection of equipment can cope with most catastrophes, and its 80,000 men and women, 79,000 of them unpaid, work in 668 local units across the country.
If a disaster does occur, these deploy immediately to assist other organisations such as the Red Cross, fire brigade, army and police, and then help to repair and rebuild infrastructure and get life back to normal. The THW also carries out missions abroad, for example in 2000, when it restored power to several French hospitals destroyed by a storm, and in 2005, when its fifteen high-powered pumps helped to dry out parts of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.
Last year, the German interior ministry awarded an initial grant of €30 million to replace some of the THW’s obsolete equipment.
It has already acquired 249 new vehicles, and will be investing in more over the coming years.
After a hard-fought tendering process, Dieci won the contract to supply the first batch of thirty-nine Icarus 40.14 telehandlers for use by various local units.
Since the machines will be used in emergency conditions, the THW requested its own specific version of the Icarus.
The prototype was produced in collaboration between the research and development department, Dieci Deutschland, in Giessen, and the distributor Tiedemann Werksvertretungen. This was used at THW’s training centre in the town of Hoya, where Tiedemann provided the first operator training courses. The series version of the Icarus 40.14 underwent significant modification. For example, it includes additional features such as an air filtration system to keep out harmful substances, a toolbox, a heated pneumatic seat, a rear infrared video camera with a 7 inch monitor, a compressed air tank, heated rear mirrors, a wheel alignment monitor, a protective grille for the windscreen, right-side windscreen wipers, a digital transceiver, speaker and antenna, a Webasto air heating system, and a six-kilogramme TÜV-certified fire extinguisher.
There are additional LED cabin and headlights for low-visibility conditions, and a rotating light and siren to make clear that this is an emergency vehicle.
Heaters and an electric ignition allow the machine to operate even in polar climates.
Three additional hydraulic units provide power for accessories, which can be carried on a trailer using a towing hook with a capacity of 15 tonnes.
This truly exceptional machine also includes a people platform supporting a weight of 800 kilogrammes.
At a ceremony in February at Dieci Deutschland’s Giessen headquarters, Tiedemann handed over thirteen vehicles, each intended for one regional unit of the THW. Under an agreement with the federal interior ministry, it will deliver a further twenty-three machines by the end of October 2018. More meetings with ministry representatives will be held during 2019 to agree THW’s requirements as part of its vehicle modernisation programme, and we expect to see further Dieci models proudly sporting the organisation’s blue livery.