The recent deaths of two Paris firefighters in a gas explosion throws into sharp relief the dangers inherent in their profession. As one commentator put it, ‘When everyone else is running out, the firefighters are running in’. What is not generally known is that the Paris Fire Brigade (Brigade de Sapeurs-Pompiers de Paris, or BSPP) is an actual Brigade within the French Army. Pat Poland recalls the history of THE FIREFIGHTERS WHO CARRY GUNS
Paris firefighters, with their distinctive silver-coloured Gallet helmets, are, invariably for tragic reasons, only too well known to us from our television screens, be it from attendance at major fires, accidents, or terrorist-related incidents.
The Brigade des Sapeurs-Pompiers de Paris (BSPP) main area of operations is the City of Paris and the surrounding départements of Seine-Saint-Denis, Val-de-Marne, and Hauts-de-Seine, covering a population of almost ten million.
It also serves the Guiana Space Centre of Kourou Guyane, the Military Rocket Test Centre in Biscarosse, and the huge gas plant at Lacq-Artix. It is the largest fire brigade in Europe and the third largest in the world after Tokyo and New York.
The brigade is the first-responder (premier-secours) to all fire and search-and-rescue missions, swift-water rescue on the Seine, and emergency medical services within its area of operations. Providing fire prevention and building control services are also part of its remit.
It is one of two fire services in France within the armed forces, the other being the Marseille Naval Battalion (BMPM). It is a unit of the French Army’s Engineering Corps (l’arme du génie) and the firefighters are therefore classified as ‘sappers’, or engineers; thus ‘sapeurs-pompiers’ or ‘pump-engineers’.
Paris firefighters number over 9,000 (including 450 females) 2,000 of whom have chosen to do their National Service in the brigade. Ranks are those of the military and divided into three categories: line firefighters (recruit to chief-corporal); sub-officers (sergeant to sergeant-major) and officers (sub-lieutenant to general).