Anniversary of emergency numbers: 50 years of 110 and 112

EMay 3, 1969. Eight-year-old Björn was walking home from the swimming pool in Winnenden when he was hit by a car. Soon his father is on the scene. But the ambulance arrived only after 56 minutes. Björn dies on the way to the hospital. They say the boy would have had a chance if the ambulance had arrived faster.

About two months later, on July 7, 1969, Björn Steiger’s parents, Ute and Siegfried Steiger, founded the Björn Steiger Foundation. Their goal: improve emergency care. “Our son could have been saved, but in 1969 there was no functioning rescue service in Germany,” says a quote on the foundation’s website.

In subsequent years, the foundation initiated a number of activities: a radio for transporting patients, a 15-point program to create a more modern rescue service, the installation of emergency telephones on federal and state roads, and the creation and development of an air rescue service.

“Your stubbornness got the better of you”

On 20 September 1973, nationwide emergency numbers 110 and 112 were finally introduced. Although police and other emergency services have been available on these numbers since 1956, they were only available in a few major cities at that time.

Already in the spring of 1973, the foundation was able to initiate the introduction of emergency numbers in the then administrative district of North Württemberg. However, initially they were not implemented throughout the Federal Republic of Germany – despite the lawsuit of Siegfried Steiger against the state of Baden-Württemberg and the Federal Republic of Germany. The fact that the decision to introduce a nationwide emergency call was made several months later was due to public and media pressure on politicians. The foundation’s report states that then-Federal Postal Minister Horst Ehmke called Siegfried Steiger that same night. “I’m still sitting here with the chancellor and I’d like to tell you that your stubbornness has gotten the better of you,” he is said to have told him over the phone.

Since the founding of the foundation, the number of road deaths has decreased significantly. While 21,332 people died in traffic accidents in 1970, that number had fallen to 3,368 by 2014. The foundation attributes this to improved emergency services, as well as improved traffic conditions and safer vehicles.

Ute and Siegfried Steiger sign with the Björn Steiger Foundation in 1972.

Is Germany’s emergency medical service on the verge of collapse?

Despite everything, more than 50 years later it is still clear: Germany’s emergency call system and rescue services are constantly evolving. This is one of the reasons why the Bjorn Steiger Foundation continues to operate today, although the couple planned to work for only two years. In June 2023, the foundation launched a nationwide “Save the Rescuers” campaign. It said Germany’s emergency services were “on the brink of collapse”. Those involved in the health care system are not coordinated with each other.

Pierre-Enric Steiger, son of the founding couple and current president of the Bjorn Steiger Foundation, says: “Today’s emergency care system puts human lives at risk.” One problem is that each federal state has its own laws regarding emergency services. Voices from practice report the same thing. Even during training, different countries plan for different training content, says Finn Gergen, a former paramedic. The Bjorn Steiger Foundation proposes a nationwide law for everyone.

In addition, emergency numbers are too often reported in cases where an ambulance is not required. Proposed solution: Digital connection of 112 for emergencies and 116117, which should be dialed when there is no medical emergency. Former paramedic Gergen discovered that number 116117 was often unknown. Therefore, many people called 112 even for issues not related to emergency medical assistance.

In 1971, Siegfried Steiger called the NRT building in the presence of a policeman.

“A step in the right direction”

At the beginning of September, the government commission also presented a new concept for the reform of emergency and emergency care and therefore wants to strive for a single network of real-time rescue services with pre-clinical and clinical emergency care.

This Wednesday, on the 50th anniversary of the decision to create nationwide emergency numbers, the Berlin Telecommunications Museum will host an anniversary gala celebrating the commitment of all volunteers and professional helpers. In addition to representatives of the volunteer fire brigade, state police, emergency services and other humanitarian organizations, the event is also attended by Federal Minister of Transport Volker Wissing.

Source: Frantfurter Allgemeine

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