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French firemen arrive to learn, strengthen brotherhood

If there is a fire in Whistler within the next week don’t be surprised if a French firefighter helps save the day, because there is five of them in town on exchange.

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Fire Chief Eric Dumonceaud from the Agen F.D., Fire Chief Pascal Londero from Prayssas F.D. and Deputy Jean-Michel Caillou as well as Firefighter III Christophe Becht from Marmode F.D. and Firefighter III Jerome Lara will be in Whistler for 10 days studying how Whistler Fire Rescue plans for wildfires.

The French visitors had an interesting start to their stay in Whistler because they were staying in Blackcomb staff housing when the fire alarm was triggered.

Steve Doyle from Whistler Fire Rescue said he recognized the men when they started inspecting the trucks.

"We saw them looking over our trucks when we were called to the job at staff and that’s when I thought we might be looking at our French firefighters," said Doyle.

Dumonceaud, who is the unofficial spokesman for the group, said these kinds of trips were useful for sharing tactics and information on equipment as well as strengthening the "world-wide brotherhood" of firefighters.

The issue of "brotherhood" was a particularly important point for the French visitors, because they arrived Sept. 10, the day before the third anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks. Some of the French firefighters finished an exchange with fire crews in Maryland in September 2001, just hours before the terrorist attacks in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania.

All the French firefighters on exchange are from departments in the Lot-et-Garonne County, which is located about 80 kilometres from Bordeaux in southern France.

"It’s like farmland, rural," said Dumonceaud.

Whistler’s terrain intrigued the French firefighters, mostly because Lot-et-Garonne is located near France’s biggest pine forest.

"We are near a big pine forest except, not like Whistler, our forest is flat and sandy," said Dumonceaud.

"This forest is used for wood as well as recreation… and it’s the biggest in France."

There are 47 stations in the Lot-et-Garonne County and the ambulance service is attached to the fire departments, as are other specialist groups such as the hazardous materials unit.

"One of the goals is to learn about tactics to (bring) back into France with different ideas.

"But it’s not only about firefighting, we are trying to make cultural steps as well.

"This morning we ate pancakes with maple syrup.

"It’s also important for the young firefighters to open their mind to techniques (and) maybe make some friends that we can welcome to France.

"For the fire chief, it’s important to share our methods as well.

"We take particular interest in wildfires and also looking at mission in the mountains because we are about 200 miles from mountains."

Doyle said the Whistler brigade would be involving the men in drills and familiarizing them with the different equipment.

"We’ve got a firefighters in Australia at the moment so these kinds of programs are good for the departments," said Doyle.

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