Volunteer firefighters may have ‘special status’ in France in future, Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin has said, as the role faces more scrutiny due to cases of wildfire arson over the summer.
Mr Darmanin was speaking at the 128th annual national firefighter conference in Nancy (Meurthe-et-Moselle), on September 24.
L’État est à leurs côtés. Nous avons revalorisé l’indemnité des sapeurs-pompiers volontaires de 3,5%, augmenté très significativement leurs pensions. Par ailleurs, nous avons ouvert à l’ensemble des sapeurs-pompiers la possibilité d’effectuer 12 gestes de soins d’urgence. pic.twitter.com/cCUm1Xp1Tr— Gérald DARMANIN (@GDarmanin) September 24, 2022
He announced several new measures for the profession, and congratulated firefighters for their persistence and indefatigable work over the summer, which was marked by several severe forest fires.
He said: “The civil security model has been put to the test but has never broken down.”
Mr Darmanin mentioned means for improving the service, including ways that the government pledged to offer more help with crisis response.
After speaking with firefighters present, the minister said that he wanted to make it easier for firefighters to be mobilised in the event of a serious incident, and to improve the level of professionalism among volunteers.
He said: “We must encourage people in France to become volunteer firefighters and above all encourage companies – public employers, municipalities and the state – to release them when they are working at home. There is a status for elected officials, there must be a status for volunteer firefighters.”
Grégory Allione, president of the French firefighters federation, la Fédération des sapeurs-pompiers de France, said: “An innovative idea would be to create a real status of volunteer fireman, in the same way as exists for the elected representatives, with possibilities of availability, things that will certainly shake up the management of the voluntary service. This is what we were asking for.”
Mr Darmanin’s announcement appears to have been well-received by the profession.
The minister also said that the government is working to improve conditions for firefighters.
He said: “We have upgraded the pension offer, and firefighter training. [I am] a great defender of firefighters and their work, and we will continue to improve things. We are going to increase the air fleet significantly, and we have already renewed 35 new helicopters. There is a lot to do.”
Mr Darmanin also said that President Macron would meet with representatives from the civil services, including volunteer and professional firefighters.
The president is set to address the topic of global warming, and the issues facing firefighting.
It comes as the firefighting profession has been under added pressure and scrutiny in recent months, as the dual conditions of drought and heatwave temperatures created tinderbox conditions for forest fires.
A total of 48 people, many of them former volunteer firefighters, have been arrested over the summer in connection with starting wildfires, the gendarmerie nationale said on September 23.
Passer-by drivers stop arsonist in field in south-west France
48 people arrested this summer accused of starting wildfires in France
MAP: How to see where wildfires are in France in real time
Wildfires in south of France: 10,000 hectares burned and counting