The alarm sounded: fire on Site 2 at the Jänschwalde power plant.
“We got there just a few minutes later. It smelled of burning. A thermal imaging camera helped us locate the source of the fire – glowing coal on a conveyor belt,” Fire Chief Cindy Welcher says as she recalls her most complicated mission so far.
Luckily, nobody was hurt. But this has not always been the case for the 26-year-old, who is also an emergency medical technician and has tended to serious car crashes.
“It’s not always easy to forget things like this. If you choose this career, you have to really want it. You can’t be a wimp.”
This rings especially true for her as a young, slender woman – 1.65 metres tall and weighing 55 kilograms – working in a male-dominated field where, together with her colleagues, she tackles infernos of up to 1,000 degrees Celsius. Firefighters are no more resistant to temperature than other people, but by using the right protective clothing, they are able to spend longer time in areas with high temperatures. The air temperature depends on the duration of the fire.
From 2011 up until recently, when another woman joined the power plant’s firefighting team, Cindy was the only female firefighter among 50 firemen.
“It’s my dream job,” she says. As a child, she had a burning passion for firefighting, and joined the youth fire brigade at 11. Her dad, also a fireman, was most likely the spark of this passion.
But, in order to turn her hobby into a career, she first needed to learn a profession. She completed an apprenticeship at Vattenfall to become an industrial mechanic. And after that, she completed training at a state firefighting and rescue school. There, no one gets special treatment - man or woman, big or small.
“Training is the same for everyone. Ultimately, there is no difference when out in the field.” This teamwork is what she loves about her job.