Bavarian Mountain Rescue Employs Luxury Training Center

By By Andrew Drwiega, International Bureau Chief | February 5, 2015
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Inside the Bavarian Mountain Rescue Center. Photos by
Andrew Drwiega

The Bavarian Mountain Rescue Center in Bad Tolz, southern Germany, is one of the world’s leading full-scale helicopter rescue training centers. Called the Center for Safeness and Training, it has been purposely built to provide the most challenging rescue environments – all from the comparative luxury of an indoor center where training can proceed any day of the year no matter what the weather is outside.

But to think of it as anything other than a practical work center would be a mistake. Serious rescue work is done here, including the honing and refining of different techniques and the opportunity for multiple agencies to train together. The Bavarian Mountain Rescue Service is around 100 years old, and at one time carried out its training solely with the military. However, the organization has grown to the extent that it now has 3,500 volunteer members and more than 100 rescue stations with an additional 200 outposts. Between them, the organization logs approximately 12,000 rescues per year.


With mountain rescue representing a significant part of the challenge that the organization faces, they wanted to design a center for multiple uses that incorporated not only mountain rescue, but also water rescue in the central pool (with a plan for fast-water at a later date), cave rescue, and rescue from trees (there will be several trees in one area to simulate a forest). Training also takes place with specialist helicopter-borne personnel including SWAT units and firefighters.

“The training experience is much the same as when we do it outside,” said Thomas Griesbeck, one of the organization’s instructors.

Fifty years ago, the Bavaria-based rescue service started working with helicopters. They were old and basic machines to begin with, but over the years modernization has increased their capabilities and improved their performance. “We now conduct helicopter rescues around 1,200 times per year in our region,” said Griesbeck. “We do not own any helicopters but we work with many partners such as ADAC, border control, the police and the military.”

He added that with the increased use of rescue hoists during rescues the organization began working with multiple organizations, not just the army, and that all of those partners often arrived with their own set of procedures.

“Training with real helicopters has become increasingly expensive, particularly in terms of fuel and maintenance costs that the operators have to cover, and we began to think how we would be able to continue training with minimal expenditure. There is also the safety aspect and conditions are much easier to control within our purpose-designed building.”

Not only does it have a helicopter cabin complete with simulated downwash and even rotor noise, it can also lift, rotate and do all of the maneuvers that would be expected during a rescue. When the facility is finished and operational by the middle of summer this year, it will have a new and more spacious cabin.

The organization is run on a non-profit basis, which is why it limits training to organizations that it works with on a regular basis. However, even search dogs have had the helicopter experience.

A rescue crewman demonstrating the sail attachment to the rescue litter to counter the spin effect when in the air.

“We have more than 100 cable cars in Bavaria and we took a look at what other rescue organizations were doing before beginning our own experiments,” said Griesbeck. “We asked the army if they could give us a cabin (this is the BK117 in use today) and the fire brigade donated a crane. Finally, we decided that the best option was to design one big hall where we could conduct all our training simulations in combination with a helicopter cabin.”

The process was initiated around six and a half years ago, and is now nearly complete. The helicopter can be moved to every area internally. “We even have a set of original mountain cable-car cabins and ski lifts so we can train on extractions without actually having to go into the mountains and cause any disruption or concern to those actually using the facilities,” said Griesbeck.

Different organizations bring various methods and skills, even fast roping and repelling for special forces. This year, the facility will be expanded to include service rooms, a medical room to allow paramedics to train on-site, and a new climbing wall.

AMST provided the design of the unit and the mechanics behind its operation. Richard Schlüsselberger said that his company AMST was prepared to work with other organizations that were considering how they could improve their own training facilities. The background to AMST’s involvement is that it already produces an underwater escape training system (UWETS).

One of the small but important discoveries that the team made during their investigation into how to manage the rescue litter in the air was the addition of a small sail-like fin to part of the litter. The rescue winch man can deploy this in the air to counter the tendency of the litter to spin as a result of rotor downwash.

Related: Training News 

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