The U.S. Army Garrison Wiesbaden Fire Department’s Karin Morrell was recently promoted to assistant fire chief prevention with a Level 3 Fire Prevention Officer certification, the first woman to achieve the title in Europe.
“It’s been a big dream of mine and it finally came true,” Morrell said.
When asked how she feels about it, she just had one word: “Geil!” which is a German colloquial term, meaning something like “awesome!”
She has recently become certified by the National Fire Protection Association as a Level 3 Fire Prevention Officer, the first female in Europe.
“Not many women go this route,” said Daniel Corzelius, USAG Wiesbaden’s fire chief. “I had no doubt she could do it, because I always knew that she had what it takes to do this job, and I have always supported her.”
Morrell is a local national employee and applied for the position when her predecessor retired. “I had already filled in for him for a while, so it’s actually nothing new for me now,” Morrell said. Her duties as the assistant fire chief prevention include the supervision of fire prevention measures on the installations that belong to USAG Wiesbaden. “I look at the fire prevention concepts of a new construction or existing building and make sure that both the American requirements as well as the German requirements are met,” Morrell explained. “The American facility codes tell us exactly which measures are to be taken in order to properly ensure the safety of each employee. However, they also have to meet the German requirements, because we have local national employees working on the installation as well.”
Additionally, Morrell is active in training and educating the community with public information programs and organizing the fire prevention week every year. “I also work very closely with MWR and other event organizers to ensure all our on-post events adhere to the fire prevention requirements,” she said. And if all that is not yet enough, Morrell also acts as incident commander in an emergency situation when the fire chief is not on scene.
Morrell is no newbie to working as a firefighter. She started her career as a dispatcher in Bamberg and later on in Würzburg. When she accepted the position of fire inspector, she decided to become a volunteer firefighter in her free time. “It’s very important to not only know the theory behind the work, but to also know what it’s like to actually do it and fight fires, so I can prevent them better,” she explained. In 2006, she started her firefighting career at the USAG Wiesbaden Directorate of Emergency Services. She went through several firefighter certification courses and is a certified hazardous material technician. Additionally, she also possesses the National Emergency Medical Technician certificate.
“She has been the only female firefighter for very long, so we started calling her the ‘mother of the team,’ because she is always there for her colleagues when they have problems. She listens to them, encourages them and never turns anyone away,” Corzelius explained.
“The toughest part of this job is dealing with the architects,” Morrell said with a chuckle. “Trying to find the middle way which satisfies the Army fire prevention regulations as well as the German regulations, plus looking at the most cost effective solution, can be very difficult. But convincing the architects to stay in these lanes is a whole new world, which requires not only expert knowledge of the material, but also persuasiveness.”
On the other hand, the best thing about this job is the multitude of things you do, she explained. “The planning, the construction work, the emergencies, dealing with budgets, the training and educational parts, working with the families and especially the kids — that’s what makes this job interesting and exciting.”
Morrell’s job requires her to not only know codes and regulations on both the Army side and the German side; she also needs to know how the German firefighters and ambulance teams work. In their cooperation with the German emergency services, the USAG Wiesbaden Fire Department regularly invites German firefighters and ambulance personnel to visit the different installations. “Karin takes them around and explains the different fire prevention measures in the buildings, which are sometimes very unique in a way that they can’t be found like this on the German side,” Corzelius said. “We want to ensure that all emergency teams know how to do their job during an emergency. That’s why we constantly work on expanding our relations to the host nation emergency services.”
Being the first female Level 3 Fire Prevention Officer is a new opportunity for Morrell to take advantage of her experience and knowledge. “I love it and I would like to do more educational work for the community on how to better prevent fires and stay safe at work and at home. I’m happy to use my experience wherever I can,” said Morrell, with a big smile on her face.