CHANNEL Tunnel operator Eurotunnel has been forced to set up its own firefighting teams after a dispute with the fire service at Calais.
The Pas-de-Calais Service Departemental d'Incendie et de Secours (SDIS62) has been providing "first line of response" fire cover in the Tunnel for nearly 18 years but Eurotunnel is now to hire private staff to provide security. They are not intended to fight fires but will all have firefighting experience.
Eurotunnel's decision to call in a private company came as it was renegotiating its 2.7million euro a year contract with the SDIS. Fire service bosses pulled out after being unhappy with some aspects of the contract.
The company said it "regretted" the SDIS move. It added: "We have never skimped on security and we are looking for the best solutions to take over the SDIS work."
Eurotunnel corporate media director Fabienne Lissak told Connexion today: "The service will be better than before. Previously the pompiers were not on duty between 22.00 and 6.00 but now we will have more fully-trained staff on duty 24 hours a day.
"Many of them will be firefighters who will lose their jobs when the present SDIS62 contract ends. There have been many more applications than there are jobs so the new staff will all have firefighting experience."
Eurotunnel carries around 20m people a year through the Tunnel. Its last major fire was in September 11, 2008, involving a freight Shuttle loaded with lorries and drivers.
Fourteen people received minor injuries in the fire, which burned for 16 hours, reaching temperatures of 1,000C. Services were disrupted for nearly six months and repairs cost 60m euros.
From January 1, 2013, the 45 Pas-de-Calais firefighters will be replaced by staff from the security division of Marseille-based group Onet.
Adverts have already been posted by the company for staff, who should be "serious, calm and, ideally, have done some service as a volunteer firefighter or five years in industrial fire prevention".
They will not be used to fight fires but to prevent outbreaks and "take emergency measures".