Önder Pelvan has a very special hobby. As a member of the Bosch Search and Rescue Team in Bursa, Turkey, he saves lives in the event of a disaster, in addition to his other work. “Being able to help people feeds your soul,” he said.
Things fall apart
Önder Pelvan can still remember the date. It was early in the morning, August 17, 1999. An earthquake roused people in northern Turkey and the Istanbul region from their sleep. One of the most devastating natural disasters of the 20th century, the magnitude 7.6 earthquake killed 18,373 people, injuring around 50,000 more. More than twenty years later, he describes that moment as a “turning point”. Back then, still only in his early 20s, it opened his eyes.
Pelvan had moved from Germany to Turkey five years previously. He realized that such earthquakes were not an exception. More than 20 percent of Turkey is an earthquake high-risk zone. “At the time, I set out to learn everything about the topic and to create understanding in my family and in society – for the fact that we have to learn to deal with it,” said Pelvan, who is now 44 years old.
“Helping people feeds your soul”
It takes sacrifice
Pelvan began working for Bosch in Bursa in 2002, as Manufacturing Information Processor. He became a member of the Bosch Search and Rescue Team. “I quickly realized that I had to train a lot to be able to play a good role. I worked on myself a lot, learned a lot.” Pelvan, married and father of a 13-year-old son, has a goal. He sacrifices a lot of time for this, even if he is clear that his family and Bosch have invested even more, so he can continue to do this voluntary work to help others.
He trains regularly with his team in Bursa, gives courses, and has even joined another Search and Rescue team. “We spend a lot of time together, away from our families, train in various types of rescues, for example from above or in urban areas, and educate ourselves psychologically in addition to all the physical work,” he said. “We have to be prepared for everything when we arrive at the scene of the accident.”
Human, not superhuman
To date, he has made 55 appearances in rescue operations. The biggest intervention wasn’t long ago. An earthquake struck Izmir on October 30, 2020. Pelvan was working from home, and felt the quake at 3.20pm where he sat in Bursa. He asked his boss for time off — he wanted to use a few vacation days to go help at the scene of the accident. The response was swift: “Human lives come first. Don't worry about work, go to Izmir. We stay in touch.” Pelvan was on-site for six days. Several residential buildings had collapsed due to the 7.0 quake. His training came in handy. “Of course, it is an indescribable feeling to be able to touch a person and make sure they will live.”
This is why he hopes others will follow his path. “I'm not Superman, I don't have a cape. Everyone can do what I do. Your strength makes us stronger.”