“This summer, we took a slap in the face: we will have to react. Global warming requires us to review our action plans”, poses Grégory Allione, president of the National Federation of Firefighters of France (FNSPF), contacted by AFP.
During the summer, up to 10,000 firefighters a day were mobilized by the fires which ravaged 62,000 hectares of forest, from the Gironde to the Jura via Finistère and Maine-et-Loire. A record for the largest area burned at this stage of the year since the start of satellite data in 2006, according to the European Forest Fire Information System (EFFIS).
“The fires are there but our rescue activity continues, so we must be able to ensure the staff resource, which is not extensible”, affirms in the South-East Captain Cédric Faure, 49, volunteer firefighter in Ardèche, where more than 2,500 hectares went up in smoke this summer.
The Lille-Bouvines barracks (North) is also “understaffed”: “There are three professionals missing day and night in the rescue center”, notes Chief Warrant Officer Jacky Maniez, professional firefighter for 23 years .
To expand the ranks, the FNSPF requests the recruitment “as soon as possible” of “almost 1,000” winners of professional firefighter competitions who have not yet been hired and 50,000 additional volunteers “by 2027”, explains Grégory Allione.
– New trucks and planes –
But if “in urban areas, there is no problem recruiting volunteer firefighters, on the other hand it is more difficult in rural or remote areas”, notes Lieutenant-Colonel Michel Santamaria, president of the Union departmental firefighters of Vaucluse, joined by AFP.
Several unions, such as the Spasdis CFTC and the CGT, also regret that the current system “rely too often on volunteers”, who already represent more than three quarters of the 250,000 French firefighters, and call instead for “massive recruitment “of professionals.
To reflect on the “model of prevention and fight against fires”, Emmanuel Macron must bring together in September all the actors of the departments concerned by the summer fires.
The FNSPF hopes in particular to obtain the means to finance the purchase of new tank trucks and to see an increase in the air capacities of civil security, which today has 19 water bombers.
“The current fleet was designed to respond to fires in the Landes and Gironde in the spring, then in the South of France and in Corsica in the summer. Today, aircraft must be able to be operational throughout the territory”, explains Grégory Allione.
If historically the departments of the South could count on those of the North to support them during the forest fire season, the latter “are now also busy at home”, he continues.
– “Sustainable” reorganization –
“We were lucky (this summer, editor’s note) not to have other major disasters at the same time as ours and to be able to concentrate forces. But tomorrow?” Asks Commander Matthieu Jomain, spokesperson for the Gironde firefighters, hard hit this summer by two fires which destroyed a total of more than 28,000 hectares of pine forest.
Visiting this department in August, Emmanuel Macron had estimated that France should acquire “more” firefighting planes and had called for “redeploy an industrial strategy” to build these devices.
However, it will take “three to four years” before any delivery, according to Commander Alexandre Jouassard, spokesman for Civil Security.
“The back-to-school discussions aim to develop a sustainable reorganization plan for the years to come, to respond to a global risk. There will be immediate responses and others that will take longer to put in place,” adds Mr Jouassard.
The Assembly of the departments of France (ADF) has also announced that it will deploy a field mission in the disaster areas to bring up, by mid-September, the needs of firefighters and develop emergency proposals on their funding.
The FNSPF, the National Conference of Fire and Rescue Services (CNSIS) and the National Association of Directors of Sdis (ANDSIS) demand that the share of the insurance tax which finances the Sdis be doubled “from now on, as part of the finance bill for 2023”.