The rust-colored metal structures that rose up to the skies of Provence looked like modern art installations, but were negated by the arrival of the “HBE” (Helicoptere Bombardier Deau, or Water Bomber Helicopter). The plane jumped over the top of those steel trees, dumped a hectoliter of cargo, and returned to pick up a fresh load from the basin.
Sweaty young firefighters take off their helmets and fire hats. As they say among themselves, they are literally “on fire” to be as close as possible to the situations they will encounter throughout their careers. One officer described the Velax fire brigade school, 35 kilometers north of Marseille, as “a unique place in Europe, perhaps in the world”. 23 tree-shaped structures equipped with gas burners simulate real fire conditions. Firefighters are trained to work in a heat-damaged environment.
Fighting fire in complex arrangements
Orlan, 18, finished her first training session “surprised by the workings of thermal phenomena and the sensation of direct contact with fire.” The young woman was 12 years old when she joined the school for young firefighters in Salon-de-Provence. Unlike many of her classmates, she did not inherit the family tradition, many of whom followed in the footsteps of their relatives – fathers, brothers or cousins, and increasingly mothers or sisters.
Orlan wants to continue her voluntary work but has not yet considered a full-time job – “Maybe after my studies at DUT (Technical University Diploma) in Hygiene, Safety and Environment.” In the meantime, she must pass the “MAF” test, another great classic of the Velax site. This “maison à feux (house of fire)” has five floors and a basement with corridors and blinds arranged in eight “points of fire”. It allows students to experience difficult working conditions in an enclosed, smoke-filled environment, and attack a fire consuming a residential building or industrial facility.
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Volunteer or professional firefighters, officers of all departments and administrative staff: like Orlan, about 10,000 trainees will undergo a thousand practical and theoretical trainings at the training center. They attend lectures in one of the 15 rooms or the 155-seat amphitheater and try their hand at commanding the “columns,” the trucks’ occupants used to fight forest fires. 40 vehicles will be used for the training along with monitoring tower, approved driving school circuit and driving simulators.
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