The Man Behind The Helmet

First Call

I went on my first call as an observer with the firefighters of the station of Saint-Priest, in the great suburb of Lyon. This station is an important one because in addition to the station itself, it is where you can find the bureau of the logistics management for the city of Lyon and its region, as well as the training center complete with a burn building.

As in all the fire stations I visited after that, the men of Saint-Priest pressed me with questions when they learned that I live near New York, and have been lucky enough to follow the American firefighters during their trainings. They wanted to see every picture I made, and particularly the trucks, which they admired with the gleaming eyes of children presented with splendid toys. That was quite the icebreaker! They gave me the grand tour of the fire station, gave me all the explanations about the cars, their domains of interventions, told me stories and anecdotes…

Regarding the authorizations, everything was clear: if there was a seat for me and as long as the group leader (in charge of 3 to 4 persons during an intervention) was ok with it, I could tag along.

Unlike the USA, where many houses are made of wood, most interventions of the French firefighters are rescue calls, with an average of about 75%, from the lady who tripped and fell in the street to car crashes, from respiratory problems to incidents in front of a nightclub.

And on this first call, I saw no flames or smoke. The intervention was quite ordinary, but you have to remember that my main interest in this project was not to witness a fire, but to discover the human inside the uniform; this call exemplified all I was hoping for.

The men answered to a rescue call from a medical analysis center, where an elderly person had fainted. The situation was quite simple and easily resolved. What struck me most was to see how these men, who had answered all my questions with such good will in the morning, cared for this old lady with endless benevolence and gentleness. Never, even for a second, did I feel any weariness or hastiness in their actions. I was lucky enough to be able to capture several manifestations of this kindness, most notably on the penultimate image, with this splendid and comforting smile to the victim.