“Here is the doctor’s waiting room,” smiles captain Etienne Barthélémy. Facing him, his “patients” are dozens of trucks, light vehicles and ambulances, parked behind the Bordeaux buildings of the Technical and Logistics Group of the Departmental Fire and Rescue Service (SDIS 33).

Among them, a large part was used to fight the flames which ravaged around 30,000 hectares of Gironde forest. Broken windshield, deformed bumpers, melted mirrors, affected engines, the damage was numerous and the bill can climb to several thousand euros per vehicle.

In one corner, mechanics are working on four tank trucks. A little further on, boilermakers dismantled a bumper that was too damaged to be repaired.

Forest fires, the workshop foreman Bruno Arrieta, at the SDIS for 31 years, has seen it pass. But this year, the number of trucks awaiting treatment surprises him: “We stagnate at 70 because when we repair one, there are others arriving. At the moment, we only take care of the trucks -cisterns.”

At the beginning of November, the departmental emergency service still had “74” unavailable vehicles, confirms Etienne Barthélémy, against 30 on average during a “normal” year. That is more than 40% of the firefighting vehicle fleet.

Other stigmata of an “exceptional” summer for firefighters: “700 damaged pipes” or “300 tires” used during the season.

– “Double bites” –

These shadow workers have not stopped since July and the simultaneous outbreak of the mega-fires of Landiras and La Teste-de-Buch. Mechanics were even present on the ground to carry out emergency repairs, or lend a hand as volunteer firefighters.

“Working hours are usually from 7.30 a.m. to 5 p.m. but during the summer it was from 5.30 a.m. to 9 p.m.”, underlines the captain.

The technical and logistics group brings together 150 people, from mechanics to boilermakers, from storekeepers to buyers, including a carpenter, with a common objective: to find a suitable level of equipment available before the next fire season which, on paper, begins on 1st of March.

“Usually, we only start repairing forest fire trucks in January; there, in July, we started”, specifies Étienne Barthélémy. A budget extension has been granted to deal with this exceptional situation… which could be repeated.

In taking stock of the summer operations in October, Lieutenant-Colonel Philippe Harguindeguy, head of the SDIS 33 operational center, assured that the technical services were working “double bites” for the next season.

But, in addition to the number of damaged vehicles, the restoration takes time because superficial “wounds” can hide more serious damage. “Sometimes we see a truck and we say to ourselves that there will be no need for major repairs. Then we start to dismantle and then we realize that it will take more time”, explains Bruno Arrieta.

And, whether it’s an engine problem or a twisted step, everything is done to restore an almost new vehicle, and guarantee the safety of the troops during their next missions.