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Children's fire brigade practice with a self-built Mini Unimog.

How to make the emergency number for the fire department more memorable? In German, there is a short rhyme that kids are taught, in case they ever find themselves in need of assistance: „Wenn es brennt, irgendwo, ruf die Nummer eins-eins-zwo“ („If there’s a fire anywhere, call 112“). But have you ever wondered how those coming to your aid are trained? Andreas Gasser from the voluntary fire department in the Hessian district Neuenhain has come up with something special to help motivate the younger generation of fire fighters: A DIY miniature Unimog. It has exactly the right size for the juniors and it even features equipment true to the original. Thus, it is ideal for the technical training of the fire-fighting kids, called the „Löschfüchse“ („Fire-fighting foxes“).

Emergency helpers.

As soon as they turn six years old, boys and girls are allowed to join the voluntary children’s fire department in Neuenhain. One of the newer members is Andreas Gasser’s son, who represents the fourth generation of the Gasser family in the fire department Neuenhain. „At this age, most children are not even as tall as the tires of our regular vehicles“, Marco Müssig, chief and chairperson of the fire department, explains. This is problematic, as not only the vehicle but also the rest of the equipment is heavy, bulky and therefore potentially dangerous to use – definitely not suitable for children.

But naturally, kids want to do the same things grown-ups do. “In the past few years, we practiced with small hoses and boxes”, Marco Müssig recounts. “We had to lift the kids up to the pump control platform so they could see what was going on.” In 2018, Andreas Gasser came up with the idea of building a small vehicle for the children. Not an easy undertaking, as the safety of the young fire fighters, the “Löschfüchse” as they are called in Neuenhain, needs to be guaranteed at any time.

Personal passion meets creative spirit.

“Already as a child, I was infected with Mercedes-Benz fever”, Andreas Gasser jokes. He remembers looking over his neighbor’s shoulder while he was working on a car. The fact that the miniature training vehicle is a reproduction of a Unimog is no coincidence. After finishing his apprenticeship as a car mechanic at Daimler in Frankfurt, he bought a Unimog – a piece that needed true handicraft enthusiasm, he remembers laughing. It took him five years of passionate repair work to get his Unimog 411 up and running again. The experience turned out to be valuable for building the glaring red miniature version many years later. Using an electric drive, the mini doppelgänger can go at walking speed across the site of the voluntary fire department in Neuenhain.

“After spending a lot of time on developing a complex 3D CAD model, the actual construction of the hardware did not take very long”, Andreas Gasser remembers. Chassis, drivers cab and body were finished in winter 2019. After installing cables and wires, all that was left were the finishing touches. “The pump was a big challenge“, the crafts enthusiast says. You cannot buy a self-priming centrifugal pump with only 24 V, as the default voltage for these pumps is 230 V. Therefore, the 24 V pump in the miniature Unimog is a real in-house development. In open waters, the hose connected to the pump can transport 3,000 l per hour.

All-rounder in miniature format.

Of course, a Unimog is not complete without a rope winch, Andreas Gasser thinks. For safety reasons, however, the winch in the miniature vehicle features a plastic rope. Similar to the big model, the construction can be used flexibly. Marco Müssig explains the application during training: “Depending on what we are practicing with the kids, we can attach one or even two boxes to the body.” The “Löschfüchse“, who are aged between six and ten, are even allowed to drive the electrically powered Unimog themselves.

Whether in large and small format: Safety first.

“Of course, for a small vehicle that you built yourself, there is no equivalent to the German TÜV, an official institution to certify the safety of vehicles”, Andreas Gasser says. Therefore, the mechanical engineer was particularly careful building the mini truck. He knew from the beginning that he wanted to build an emission-free vehicle. At full capacity, the battery can keep the electric car going for up to 90 minutes. Moreover, it can be turned on and off with a remote control. This ensures that the respective supervisor stays in full control while the fire-fighting juniors practice their driving within a secured area. The pump, the 230 V generator, as well as the rope winch with an output of 900 W are also connected to the remote control. What cannot be missing from a fire brigade vehicle are sirens and a horn. The volume was reduced in the miniature vehicle in order to protect the children’s ears.

Andreas Gasser, who works as a vocational teacher, also has another mission: “I wanted to achieve a learning effect, both for the fire brigade as well as for general education. That is why all details of the different functions were important to me.” For Andreas Gasser, whose field of expertise is electric mobility, the battery with all its functions represents a brilliant hands-on example to teach physics.

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Inspiration for the next generation.

From start to finish, 100 hours of work were put into the design and 600 hours into the construction of the Unimog for the children’s department of the fire brigade in Neuenhain. “My great-grandfather was one of the founding members of the fire brigade”, Andreas Gasser reveals. The passion runs in the family.

Like all the other “Löschfüchse”, his son needed to pass a special driving test before being allowed behind the steering wheel of the mini truck – a seat that is fiercely contested. “The kids were totally amazed“, Marco Müssig remembers the day the miniature Unimog was revealed in September 2020 – due to the Covid19 pandemic, the event was kept to a small group only.

“I would love to add another one or two Unimog to my collection, but I would not have enough space”, Andreas Gasser says laughing. He still takes his Unimog 411 for a ride once in a while. At least his miniature vehicle featuring a star will not be difficult to store. It has found its place with the “Löschfüchse” in Neuenhain, where it will hopefully spark inspiration and motivation for many future fire fighters to come.

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