Thursday, July 27

France: Mostly volunteer firefighters paid pittance, have no burn insurance after 2 years

The (U.K.) International Business Times reports that a GoFundMe page has been created to help improve working conditions for firefighters in France, 80 percent of whom work on a volunteer basis. So far the funding effort, started July 25, has raised €8,225 (US$9,653) with a goal of raising 15,000 euros. 

With all due respect and admiration for the donors, the goal is a drop in the bucket next to what is needed. From the IBT report, the volunteers are only paid up to €8/hour -- US $9.40 -- and fight fires in 10 hour shifts. In addition:
In France, after two years, firemen suffering from burns are no longer covered by insurance, and have to pay by themselves for treatment that costs about 2,000 euros per week.
That's an outrage. British novelist Robert Harris, who was among the evacuees, tweeted at 12:23 AM July 26, "Brave pompiers [firefighters] of Bormes-les-Mimosas worked all night to save hundreds of homes. 10,000 people evacuated."

And from the same report tourist Anna Tomlinson posted that visitors had been “so, so lucky” the fires did not “overwhelm” the campsite and local houses, adding the pompiers were “heroes”. From the same report: 
Hundreds of firefighters are battling to bring several blazes under control since they broke out on Monday, including the one which has scorched 800 hectares in Var.
One would think that with all the wealthy property owners on the Riviera, they could cough up more pay for the volunteer firefighters and provide better insurance coverage for them.  

IBT also reports:
This is what prompted The Nice-Matin Group to create a GoFundMe page. It reads: "Strength and courage, huge respect. This is what comes to mind when we witness the firemen who are fighting the flames in the South of France."
So far, the page has gathered €6,625 €8,225.   
According to the President of the Association des Sapeurs Pompiers de Sud-Mediterranee (Association of Firefighters of the South-Mediterranean region) Lieutenant Pierre Binaud, thousands of men and women have come to help control the flames, some even risking their safety.

"It's actually been going on since July 15," Binaud told IBTimes UK. "All available personnel have been mobilised, from tackling the flames to implementing preventive measures around the region."
Lieutenant Binaud is originally Chief of the Fire Brigade of Contes, around 6 miles away from Nice. "Usually, one firefighter spends 10 hours on the flames. There are breaks at night, when we get to go home. But we work as much as we need to on the flames. We have to be available, we have to set an example."

He explains that on top of the average amount of hours in cases of forest fires like the ones France is experiencing this week, firefighters also have to "mind the everyday business of firemanship".
Since yesterday, they also have to look after the 10,000 people that have been evacuated in the region, who've been offered refuge in some of the cities' gymnasiums.
Lieutenant Binaud says the GoFundMe page is a great effort of solidarity. The money will likely go to fund some new equipment for the firefighters and might go to help firemen hurt in the line of duty.
As to how many firefighters are battling the wildfires -- well, from an AP report published last night at 7:40 in a Hong Kong paper:
Colonel Eric Martin, of the firefighting unit in the Var region of the Cote d'Azur, said that nearly 600 firefighters were trying to contain the flames that had run through 1,300 hectares of Bormes, a magnet for tourists in southeastern France. At least 3,000 of the evacuees were campers.

The Bormes blaze was morphing into the largest in the area. Firefighters also were fighting a large blaze in nearby La Londes-Les-Maures (pictured). The Toulon airport to the west was briefly closed.
I doubt 600 is the total for the entire affected area in southern France, but that's a ballpark figure. 

Again, here is the link if you can donate:

Kudos to IBT and the reporter on the story, Claire Toureille, for informing the public about the fundraiser and the situation for France's volunteer firefighters. 

The French government needs to create better fire-fighting policy because the wildfires that have been raging across southern Europe during the past month are not routine for the fire season there, and yet will be the new normal during drought conditions.  


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