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EDITIONS
 Tuesday, 21 January, 2003, 14:40 GMT
Firefighters: La différence
French firefighters at a chemical disaster in Toulouse
French firefighters have a number of roles

It's hard to imagine there will be many tears being shed by French firefighters for the plight of their British counterparts as they prepare for more strike action.

French firefighters, les sapeurs-pompiers, would give their eye teeth for the sort of terms and conditions that Britain's firefighters currently enjoy.

After training, a British firefighter earns around £21,000.

In France, the average wage of a firefighter with the same training and length of service is £14,000.

Industrial relations may be fraught in the UK, but they have quite some distance to go before they rival France

In other words the British firefighter earns 50% more, but - and it's a big but - does a lot less.

In France, the men and women in the gleaming silver helmets are also the ambulance service, the first port of call in any kind of emergency.

And at the national fire training school, south of Paris, it's estimated that a sapeur-pompier spends less than half his call-out time putting out fires.

The bulk of their work is offering primary medical care - they are all fully trained paramedics, and each engine carries defibrillators.

That means they are in huge demand with very little time spent sitting around the fire station.

Shorter hours

But French firefighters do work a shorter week.

As a result of legislation introduced by the last socialist government, nearly all workers in France are able to enjoy the benefits of a 35-hour week.

In Britain, fire crews are rostered to work 42 hours per week.

And then there are the quirks and curiosities of being a sapeur-pompier in France.

Every firefighter in Paris and Marseille - the country's two most important cities - are in fact members of the armed forces.

Napoleonic times

As such, they are prevented from taking strike action.

It is something which dates back to Napoleonic times (like much else in France) and the system has never been changed.

They are paid even less, but at least they are put up in barracks so do not have big accommodation costs to meet.

The average age of firefighters in these two cities is very low.

These are young men, normally from small towns around France who sign up for five or 10 years, and at the end of their military service as firemen return home to seek work as firefighters in the place where they grew up.

Dramatic results

So if you are a sapeur-pompier outside Paris and Marseille you have the right to go on strike.

A right that is taken up periodically, often with dramatic results.

The last time there was widespread industrial action, there were violent clashes between the firemen and the police.

In the northern city of Lille they even took the extending ladder to the picket lines, and took to it to douse the riot police in foam.

Industrial relations may be fraught in the UK, but they have quite some distance to go before they rival France.


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 VOTE RESULTS
Do you support the fire strike?

Yes
 31.09% 

No
 68.91% 

13573 Votes Cast

Results are indicative and may not reflect public opinion

See also:

21 Jan 03 | England
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