French Firefighters Under Fire

Les pompiers lancent #TouchePasÀMonPompier
Firefighters launch #HandsOffMyFirefighter
LE FIGARO, 13th February 2018. An initiative launched by the Fédération nationale des sapeurs-pompiers de France ­(FNSPF) [French National Federation of Firefighters] and the network of regional and departmental fire-fighters’ Unions, aims to raise public awareness of the rising tide of violence directed against their members.

The campaign uses the internet and social media to counter the harassment that firefighters are subjected to, day in day out. Its appeal to the public to post selfies online with the hashtag #TouchePasÀMonPompier [#HandsOffMyFirefighter], has been very successful. The Twitter account @PompiersFR had already received 300,000 views by the beginning of February, and the Facebook page, Sapeurs-pompiers de France, more than 450,000 views and 6,700 shares.

Many celebrities have joined in – starting with the television presenter Stéphane Plaza, and the actor Omar Sy – to reach the widest public, especially the young. Just a one-off communications exercise? “Not a PR stunt, more letting off steam”, insists the FNSPF.

2,280 professional and volunteer firefighters attacked in one year

It must be said that the numbers revealed by the Observatoire national de la délinquance et des réponses pénales (ONDRP) [National Review of Delinquency & The Criminal Justice Response], in a study published on 15th November 2017, have had the effect of an electric shock: 2,280 professional and volunteer firefighters attacked in one year, an average of six per day. Incidents rose by more than 17% between 2015 and 2016.

Sometimes, heavy objects are thrown from upper storeys or the terraces of rows of flats.

Still more serious is that the attacks have become more violent. Consecutive days off work taken as a result of these assaults rose by more than 36%. In addition, incident reports list 414 vehicles damaged in 2016, at a cost of more than €280,000.

Today, firefighters deplore the “almost routine stone-throwing” in the working-class suburbs [quartiers]. “Sometimes, heavy objects are thrown from upper storeys or the terraces of rows of flats – like breeze-blocks or the motors from washing-machines, with the risk of fatal injury!”, fumes an officer of the Departmental Fire & Rescue Service (SDIS) in the Alpes-Maritimes.

General Jean-Claude Gallet, commanding the Brigade des sapeurs-pompiers de Paris (BSPP) [Paris Fire Service], described this now almost banal violence in an interview in Le Figaro published on 20th November last year. His personnel, who were on the front line of rescue operations during the terrorist attacks of 2015, are, on his own admission, overstressed. “Every five days, the firefighters of Paris have to deal with an assault from the public”, he explains.

And it’s not only the capital that is suffering. In the provinces, in the Departments of the Auvergne and Limousin, for example, 42 assaults were reported in 2016: a rise in the incident rate of 68% when the number of operational missions had fallen by more than 5% the same year.

The region most affected was Nouvelle-Aquitaine, with 406 assaults: attended, however, by a derisory rate of complaints, 6.9%, brought by the firefighter-victims. At the national level in 2016, little more than half of all assaulted firefighters had lodged complaints (58.6%).

In the honours-list of regions most affected by this phenomenon of violent assaults against firefighters, in 2016, come the Hauts-de-France (366 assaults), Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes (301), the Grand-Est (267), the Île-de-France (230), and Provence-Alpes-Côte-d’Azur [Paca] (213).

The recorded incidents are exclusively those involving physical violence. “Verbal aggression takes place every day. It’s become habitual”, says André Goretti, president of the Fédération autonome des sapeurs-pompiers professionnels (FASPP) [Independent Federation of Professional Firefighters]. In his opinion, some of these assaults have left their mark, psychologically, on his troops.

Like the police, firefighters are very often the victims of a war waged by drug lords against anyone who symbolises the Republic.

The volunteers, who make up 40% of all firefighters, would be the most vulnerable. Recourse to a psychologist for support has become more and more frequent. But this doesn’t apply in routine cases, like assaults from people affected by alcohol.

In the latest number of the FNSPF Review, Bernard Laygues, a former volunteer firefighter from the Val-d’Oise, sets out in the strongest terms what his successors are not free to say. He writes: “Against the background of structural unemployment, many of the hot-spot suburbs reveal just how the parallel economy, quite simply, allows people to survive! There, the rescuers start to look like spoil-sports from the point of view of the dealers.” Like the police, firefighters are very often the victims of a war waged by drug lords against anyone who symbolises the Republic. ⇒ Le Figaro