Fatal accident : Firefighters face manslaughter charges in failed tram rescue
The men's efforts to rescue a girl from beneath a tram led to her death. But are they criminally liable for trying to work quickly?
Berlin - Two Berlin firefighters are currently facing negligent homicide charges in an administrative court after an attempt to rescue a 13-year-old from beneath a tram led to her death on 12 June 2018.
The girl and a friend were cycling to get pizza in Karlshorst when the victim, Ronja, rode in front of a tram and was pulled underneath. The first firemen on-scene attempted to pull the injured girl out but discovered her foot was trapped.
Torsten B., the 49-year-old incident commander, as well as Kai-Uwe K., a 55-year-old team leader, are on trial after they grew impatient waiting for a BVG crane to arrive and opted instead for a hydraulic lift. The fire brigade successfully lifted the tram but when two firemen crawled underneath to free the girl, the 34-tonne tram slipped and fell, seriously injuring the firemen and killing the girl.
The trial is difficult because it raises the spectre that people doing their best to help under stressful conditions can still be held criminally liable for mistakes. The Tiergarten court at first hesitated to take the case.
The 30-year-old crane, the only one BVG owns, arrived on-scene after the accident and although firefighters practice rescues with the crane, the training is sporadic and often cancelled by BVG, witnesses said in court.
“They would have only had to wait a few more minutes and it would have been there,” Ronja’s mother was quoted by BZ. She had rushed to the accident site after a call from a police officer but was held a short distance away at a nearby gas station.
Defendant Torsten B. said in court on Wednesday that he was worried the girl needed immediate help even though she was conscious. He looked to a BVG employee for support when he opted for an alternative lifting method.
“The BVG traffic manager gave the green light,” he said. “What happened that day impacted all of us.”
A BVG equipment expert testified that the traffic manager was the wrong contact – they’re only responsible for getting traffic flowing after an accident. Firemen were also unaware that they needed to further secure the tram before lifting it.
Ronja’s parents are co-plaintiffs in the extraordinary case, which received strong media interest in part because of the parents’ willingness to talk to the press. Her father worked with German state broadcaster Deutsche Welle at the time.
The trial will continue on 5 October.