Head of Fire Service Christian Schwarz
“My dream came true”
Christian Schwarz joined the voluntary fire service when he was an adolescent, and today he runs Germany’s second-biggest Fire Service. The foundations for his ambitious path to the top of Hamburg’s Fire Service were laid during his studies in Chemistry at TUM.
Christian Schwarz knew early what he wanted to do for a living. In 1986, while still at school, he joined the volunteer fire brigade of his home town near Munich and was fascinated with it from the very beginning. “The different situations they were called out to, the technology around them, helping in emergency situations, but also the sense of community and the sports competitions that were organized – I found it all really exciting,” he remembers. It soon became clear to him that he wanted to make decisions in a responsible position and actively participate in shaping and developing the Fire Service.
Christian Schwarz paved the way to where he is now with a great deal of determination and foresight. Only approximately twenty people who graduate with a scientific or engineering degree are trained throughout Germany every year to serve in the higher echelons of the Fire Service. Christian Schwarz managed to become a member of this exclusive circle after finishing his studies at TUM. His career then took a straight-line projection and culminated in November 2018 with him occupying the highest office in the Fire Service. Since then, he has been the head of Hamburg’s Fire Service, which is the second largest fire brigade in Germany with around 3,500 full-time employees and over 3,000 volunteers. In an elaborate selection procedure carried out by the city, the man from Bavaria prevailed against numerous competitors. “It’s a unique opportunity that you only get once in your life,” says the 50-year-old enthusiastically. “It’s a dream come true for me.”
Studies in Chemistry as the foundation
The foundation stone for fulfilling his life’s dream was laid by studying Chemistry at TUM. Christian Schwarz continues to be influenced by this period in his life today. Among other things, while studying at the Chair of Inorganic Chemistry he met today’s University Professor Wolfgang A. Herrmann, who very much impressed him. “Professor Herrmann fascinated me back then because he has a special charisma and can inspire people.” However, the young student then focused on Organic Chemistry and Biochemistry in the department of Professor Horst Kessler, where he later completed his doctorate.
Studies in Chemistry are praxis-oriented, and you work with your hands as well. That’s why it is an excellent preparation for a career in the Fire Service.
This choice of studies was to pay off for the Munich-born firefighter in many ways in his professional life. “The structured and analytical approach that I learned at TUM is of great benefit to me as Head of the Fire Service,” he says. To be precise, it’s this that helps him not to be overwhelmed by the responsibility of having to guarantee the safety of almost two million inhabitants. The same goes for his own calm and level-headed nature and the extensive knowledge of the difficult tasks in the Fire Service which he acquired over the years “at the grass-roots level”. “The assignments are often very stressful for the firefighters. You come in contact with the entire range of difficult situations as well as many human tragedies and fates. As Head Official, I can’t be someone who causes more stress and hectic,” he says, aware of that responsibility.
Challenges at the top of Hamburg’s Fire Service
The issues that Christian Schwarz has to get to grips with as the head of Hamburg’s Fire Service are complex and demanding. His job is to further develop the Fire Service in a city with highly dynamic growth and make it fit for the future. New fire stations, more personnel, alternative drive systems – a great deal, which the man in charge will also tackle with a calm and determined hand. Future questions also need answers and suitable strategies. Once again, Christian Schwarz benefits from his broad expertise in Chemistry. What happens, for example, when electric cars burn and how can the fire brigade deal with them in the best possible way? What is the ideal response to accidents involving container ships loaded with hazardous substances? “A great deal in the Fire Service is pure chemistry. It was the best decision I ever made to study that course. Also, because they approach questions in such a practical and technical way,” says Christian Schwarz. Summing up, he adds: “If I had to start all over again, I would study exactly the same subject.”
Dr. Christian Schwarz
Degree in Chemistry 1994, PhD in 1998
Christian Schwarz was born in Munich and studied Chemistry at TUM from 1988 to 1993 after graduating from high school in Vaterstetten. Until April 1994 he wrote his degree thesis at the Chair of Organic Chemistry and Biochemistry II under Prof. Dr. Horst Kessler, followed by his doctorate in the same department, which he completed in 1997. During his doctoral studies, Christian Schwarz began training for higher office in the Fire Service in Stuttgart – during all his time at school and university, he was active in the volunteer Fire Service. The father of two daughters headed the Fire Service School in Geretsried for 17 years before being appointed head of the Hamburg fire brigade in 2018. In Hamburg, the native of Upper Bavaria feels extremely comfortable and well accepted, and yet: “I sometimes miss the mountains and the Bavarian way of life. That’s why I come home regularly and visit friends and my mother”.