“There used to be a pub here called “Die Sonne von Mexico”, if I remember correctly… There was always something happening there. Every weekend we dragged out at least one person with stab wounds.” Although the interview for our film is already over, we decide to stay a while longer and take a drive through Frankfurt with Leo Latasch, doing some sightseeing. I have been here before, in this dodgy corner of the banking hub of Frankfurt am Main. Shady characters are again romping about in the shadows of the financial skyscrapers between Hauptwache and Konstablerwache.
“But it’s not as bad as it used to be! You cannot imagine what it was like here in the 80s or 90s.” Latasch loves this city, grew up here, studied medicine here. No-one else has had such a big impact on Frankfurt’s rescue services.
Frankfurt, the metropolis on the Main, the mecca of Germany’s financial sector, and the former drug capital of the federal republic. That was in the era of Chancellor Kohl. Even in the Neolithic Age people settled here on the Domhügel. But Frankfurt’s first documented mention was only in 794. And today? Today, the city is one of the world’s most important financial centres. Corporations have characterised the cityscape with their skyscrapers, which are among Europe’s tallest. Around a quarter of a million people live here, 2.5 million live in the greater metropolitan area. Accordingly, Frankfurt’s rescue service is bristling with superlatives, because this is where the most expensively equipped vehicles in all of Hesse can be found. It must be said, however, that Frankfurt’s rescue service also handles 13 percent of all emergencies in Hesse – in but one city. As medical director of the rescue service, Latasch has his hands full.
“Actually, I only continued the work of my predecessor,” he says. He obviously feels uncomfortable taking credit for others’ achievements. “You see, there is something that needs to be said: I am really proud of the fact that Frankfurt has the necessary funds and the right people in the right positions that recognise the importance of a well equipped rescue service – without these factors, we would not have a facility like this.” The facility the native of Offenbach is referring to is the FRTC, the “Fire-Rescue-Training Center”.
The building on the site of the fire and rescue station cost 20 million euros and has provided emergency training for countless rescue workers since 2014 – for example with the rescue vehicle simulator.
“All the rescue vehicles of the various relief organisations are equipped in the same way. Bandaging materials are found in this drawer, painkillers in that drawer, the ventilator hangs on this wall, the corpuls3 is over there – every rescue vehicle looks the same on the inside! This allows every paramedic to help out in any vehicle during major operations and know exactly where to find everything. These few extra seconds saved may tip the scales in favour of the patient and save his life.
But the intended purpose of the rescue vehicle simulator is not only to teach budding rescue workers where to find what. This rescue vehicle also has a control room, just like a flight simulator. Here, trainers can change and control all the parameters of the simulated patients. Unexpected situations arise only for the trainees – and only until the end of the training, by which time they should have experienced everything.
There is a hint of pride in his voice when he mentions that “My guys built this on their own. Everything you see here. Of course there were a couple of bureaucrats who were shocked and said “But you can’t just do this!” And I, of course, replied: Well, we already have.”
For Latasch, the rescue vehicle simulator is the essence of the FRTC, also because it was built by “his guys” and therefore reflects the spirit of the rescue workers. But what is equally important for the training is to prepare new rescue staff as well as veterans for their work under the most realistic conditions possible. This, too, is possible at the FRTC. An entire street has been replicated in one of the halls, including five-storey residential buildings, pub, cigarette vending machine (empty) and Schlecker retail store (closed).
Even railway tracks. These lead to another hall containing a complete subway station with stairs and ticket vending machine. And, of course, with a real subway just like the one currently being used in Frankfurt today. “It is really important that our staff is trained under realistic conditions. This is what the subway stations in Frankfurt look like. And this is what the subway looks like on the inside. Do you see the test dummies sitting on the benches? Try and lift them, they are really heavy.” Yes, they are. I can only imagine how much physical input is required from the firemen and rescue workers in this hall during a fire simulation in a smoke-filled subway station. Sure, they only use artificial smoke. But I’m sure it’s just as bothersome as real smoke.
“So far, we’ve been lucky in Frankfurt and nothing too serious has happened in a subway.” But if it does, Frankfurt’s rescue workers are well prepared. And when the time comes, even Latasch’s critics will agree that the FRTC is a good and necessary investment in the safety of the people of Frankfurt.
Things could have turned out very differently. Both for Latasch and for Frankfurt. At the age of only 40 years, Latasch was declared unfit for work by the pension fund of the Hesse Medical Chamber. For life. The reason was a viral infection the anaesthetist caught from a patient. But after two years, Latasch had enough of sitting at home and wanted to work again. His employer at the time did not take to the idea very much. It took a meeting with the staff council representative for Latasch to be reinstated as medical practitioner, even though only on a part-time basis. Soon thereafter, Latasch was more or less forced into the role of medical director of the rescue service. “Actually, I only wanted to do this for two years… but now its been 13 and I am close to retirement.”
Although “retirement” may be somewhat of an exaggeration in the case of the industrious Hessian. “A realignment of priorities” is more like it, in my opinion. Because apart from his work for the rescue service, Latasch is still a member of the German Ethics Board, the Frankfurt Jewish Community and the Hesse Board of Integration, in addition to many other engagements. So we can rest assured that the bearer of the Federal Cross of Merit will not start suffering from boredom. And even if, he could still fall back on his passions, diving and flying, after all Latasch also has a commercial pilot’s license. A matter of course for him, since he also likes to help out at the airport hospital of the Frankfurt/Main mega-airport from time to time, which actually stands to reason.
Nonetheless: it is hard for him to stop working. “Of course I think about whether my successor will continue to lead the rescue service after my own heart – not in my way, which is something I cannot expect – but with a similarly good result. You know, the entire system is somewhat paradoxical: When someone has worked in the medical sector for 40 years like me, he has accumulated a lot of experience. And then, just when they reach the zenith of experience, our society decides to let them go. But that’s the way it is, and it’s something I cannot change.”
His successor is already in the wings. He is 15 years younger than Latasch, but has 14 years of experience as rescue service manager. He is very competent, Latasch emphasizes. “I’m sure of it. And it’s not like I won’t still be around for a while. There are some things I would like to continue doing. True to the motto: Let the old man have his fun, maybe he’ll leave on his own.”
But life in the fast lane has left its mark on the “Rockdoc”, as U2 frontman Bono likes to call him. His heart has caused him some problems in the meantime. Only barely did he scrape past death a while back. But I don’t have the feeling that he has slowed down since, even though he would vehemently disagree. Perhaps the best indicator for this can be found, more stopped than parked, in front of the FRTC entrance: the probably fastest four-door emergency vehicle in all of Germany, perhaps even Europe, a Mercedes AMG E63S.
“This is my toy and also my private vehicle.” Signalling system, blue light, radio transmitter – it has them all. And under the hood: a V8 biturbo with 612 HP – two more than the Lamborghini Huracan used by the Italian police. The top speed of the discreetly lacquered emergency vehicle: 300 km/h+. Latasch immediately had the limiter deactivated. “Well, I happen to like cars like these,” he nearly apologetically exclaims. Only to then add: “Yes, I confess. Now and again I do open the window when passing through a tunnel.” It is not particularly surprising therefore that the noise emanating from the four tailpipes is enough to make even the trumpets of Jericho bashfully fall silent.
“Come, get in. Let’s take a ride and grab a bite to eat.” Oh yes. With pleasure. Leo Latasch. Helper, medical practitioner, rescue worker, philosopher. And rock’n’roller.