The fire service in Switzerland is generally run through so-called militia fire brigades, mainly used by individual councils and local areas. Although professional firefighter departments do exist in big cities like Geneva, most fire brigades are specific to each town. Emergency fire services can be reached by calling 118.
Militia fire brigades
Unlike other emergency services, the vast majority of fire brigades in Switzerland are staffed by volunteers. Most have regular jobs but can be deployed if they are needed. Fire brigades are a significant part of the community and are paid for by local taxes.
As they are almost entirely volunteer-based, they rely on continued community interaction and recruitment. In areas where services cannot get enough volunteers, people can be conscripted in times of crisis and an additional “fire brigade tax” is charged.
Role of the fire brigade in Switzerland
Although known as the people who put out fires, it is estimated that only 20 percent of a firefighter's time in Switzerland is spent battling blazes. Firefighters also have many other responsibilities that include:
- Flood protection around lakes and rivers
- Environmental protection around farmland
- Domestic emergencies and gas leaks
- Fire safety talks in primary and secondary schools
- Protection concepts for adverse weather on roads and mountains
What to do in case of a fire in Switzerland
If you notice a fire while at work or at home, it is important to assess the risk factors before proceeding. A small kitchen fire can turn into a major blaze if not taken care of. If you have a fire that has become too large to control, do not attempt to put it out yourself. This extends to the use of fire extinguishers if you have not received any training.
When you discover an out-of-control fire, make your way to the nearest unobstructed exit calmly. Do not run while exiting the building and be sure to call the fire brigade on 118. Try to describe in as much detail as possible your location, the location of the fire, the type of fire and the number of people still in danger.
If your exit is blocked, move as far away from the fire as possible, ideally putting a fire door between yourself and the blaze. Then, lay as close to the floor as you can and wait for the emergency services to arrive.
History of the Swiss fire brigade
The first-ever fire brigade in Switzerland was formed in 1274 in Zurich, to prevent regular fires in the mostly wooden Swiss cities at the time. The practice of a “militia based” fire brigades was also invented, where workers had regular jobs but could be called to action at any moment to combat a fire or similar crises.
Today, there are over 1.300 fire departments across the country, with 85.000 firefighters. Firefighters can be “on duty” for 24 hours before a break and can serve up to 60 hours a week.