"Our major claim concerns our missions. In France, firefighters deal with fires, with road accidents, provide first aid to people, like an ambulance – we have a lot of tasks. And now as far as first aid is concerned, normally we only deal with urgent interventions, it’s SAMU [Emergency medical service in France] that decides whether to send us or not, but SAMU often engages firefighters in the missions that are not urgent and which are normally served by private ambulances", Francois said.
The firefighters, therefore, "are snowed under these non-urgent interventions", and while they are engaged in them, "often there are no fire trucks available", according to the trade union chief.
"So we demand our missions to be refocused only on the missions that are urgent, we ask to hire more firefighters to be able to respond to more missions", he stressed.
The strikers also seek a comprehensive reform of the national rescue service system, which, in their view, has become obsolete in recent years and "no longer functions".
"We need an extensive reform of the rescue services, including ambulance … Our rescue services system is depleted, it is based on the law of 1986, so it’s more than 30 years old. In France 30 years ago there were enough doctors, today there are not enough of them, so when a person falls sick he calls SAMU, and they since they do not have enough resources, they send firemen there. The whole ecosystem does not work. It has to be reviewed from A to Z", Francois said.
Finally, firefighters insist on a salary reevaluation. According to Francois, "when a firefighter dies or shows his courage on a mission, politicians are always there to congratulate us, but when it comes to transforming it into a risk bonus there is nobody".
"And for the so-called risk bonus (which has not been increased in France for firemen since the 1990s) – it is not only the risk of fire, we often have to intervene as an ambulance, there is a risk of aggression, we rescue people at a height so there is a risk of falling. So we demand that this risk bonus, which makes 19 percent of our salaries, is increased to 28 percent, as for the policemen", he added.
The secretary-general warned that if the rescue service system continues like that, "we will lack personnel and we will lack training". If the system, in contrast, manages to refocus firefighters’ missions, "the needs will be less big", Francois concluded.
At the same time, Francois vowed that firefighters will ensure that the strike will not affect public safety, which remains a priority.
"We will not put anything in danger, because we have our professional consciousness and we will not put our compatriots in danger … Each department has a prefect who is in charge of ensuring security distribution. So the prefect will requisite firefighters to make them work so that security is ensured. Firefighters declared a strike but a necessary number is commandeered every day to ensure security," Francois said.
Last week, seven major trade unions of French firemen, including UNSA-SDIS, announced a national strike to last until the end of August. The firefighters demand a salary reevaluation and comprehensive rescue service reform. The strike comes amid extremely high temperatures in Europe that increase the risk of fires and may even affect the work of nuclear power plants, a French major source of energy, as the rivers have got too hot to cool the reactors, according to major national electricity company EDF.