The evening starts badly. The night has not yet fallen that a stall has just been reported in downtown Montpellier. Initially, it was a simple fight: a stabbing fight, a slashed hand. But the team of firefighters who takes care of the injured requires reinforcement: around her, the context is tense, projectiles begin to fly. Hardly arrived on the spot, the captain Olivier Hayez makes sure that his men are safe. Sweeping the scene, he says: "In the so-called difficult neighborhoods, we had known this kind of situation for a long time. Today, such tensions can appear anywhere, anytime. It's as if anyone now allowed himself to jostle, or even hit a firefighter for a futile reason. "
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Spit in the eye
The incident is closed. Back to the barracks. In the comforting atmosphere of the home, everyone relaxes. Yet, everyone remembers a recent incivility that he suffered: an insult to the passage of the truck that returned from an intervention. Or an avenging finger of honor brandished by an angry driver. Or sexist remarks thrown in the face of a firefighter. Why these threats? Around the counter of the hearth floats a weariness tinged with bitterness. Some say that aggression sometimes starts from the first contact, when people dial 18. Others say that in the field, they are sometimes confused with the police, that their uniform suggests that they "Represent the authority, the state".
"I do not know who or what we are assimilated, but I remember a not so distant time when the image of the firefighter was that of a nice guy who was there to help you", cowardly David, 48 years old. Faced with verbal aggression, it is often fatalism that wins. But there is also physical aggression. Audrey, 27, remembers this drunk man who spit in his eye. "After that, She says, we are trying to move quickly to something else. " Jean-Luc, 38, recounts another incident in a quiet town north of Montpellier: "We had come to rescue a 70-year-old man who had fallen at home. After a few minutes, while I asked him the usual questions, he became angry, impaled me and slapped me with insults. "
In the Hérault, in 2018, firefighters filed 37 complaints of aggression. By 2019, there are already half a dozen procedures. "It's a lot. It's too much !" regrets Eric Flores, director of the Departmental Fire and Rescue Service (Sdis). "The worst is the trivialization of such aggression. I am shocked to see that their authors are "gentlemen all over the world": civil servants, pensioners … Sometimes just because they had to wait for us for a few minutes … " In the foyer of the barracks, the report is identical: "The violence has come out of the neighborhoods. It has become widespread and concerns all social strata ", sums up Laurent, 47 years old.
Published in December, the report of the National Observatory of Delinquency and Criminal Responses (ONDRP) points to a 23% increase in the number of reports of firefighting attacks between 2016 and 2017. Over the 2008-2017 decade, this increase reaches 213% … «In the Hérault, says Eric Flores, the Sdis is systematically civil party to the side of the firefighter assaulted. But he must file a complaint on his behalf, which can be difficult, for example when the aggression takes place in a village where everyone knows each other … " To avoid possible reprisals, the National Federation of firefighters of France wishes that they can now file anonymous complaint. The Senate has just adopted, on March 6, a bill proposed by the President of the Socialist Group, Patrick Kanner, to allow witnesses of violence against firefighters to remain anonymous.
For the time being, at the La Paillade barracks, no firefighter has hung up his clothes to commit to a less stressful life. "My love for the job has not changed, assures Jean-Luc, already victim of two assaults. But still, I wonder about human nature. "
Sarah Finger correspondent in Montpellier