Expat Magazine

A Fire in the Neighborhood

By Sedulia @Sedulia


I was going out to buy a few things for dinner when I heard sirens. They got louder and louder and at the end of our little shopping street, one, then two, then three fire trucks turned the corner, drove to near where I was, and stopped, blocking the street. I didn't want to gawk, so I went about my errands, not before a shy, country-French-looking boy asked me in a quiet voice if I had any change-- he was hungry. I don't usually give money to aggressive beggars, but this one seemed so unused to asking and so young that my heart melted. But I didn't have any money, only a credit card. He said, "Merci madame" anyway and then hung back. I saw he was approaching only certain people, but no one gave him anything.

Usually the firemen don't have much firefighting to do in Paris. The buildings are fronted in stone, the weather is not as cold, and there are not nearly as many fires as in the wooden houses of the United States. Paris firemen also respond to medical emergencies and much of their work is taken up with that. We have a fire company around the corner from us, but the only times I have ever needed them were when my son put handcuffs on our anti-Semitic Hungarian au pair and they had to be cut off with a pair of the firemen's huge shears, and when a bande de jeunes set fire to a car in front of our house during the 2005 riots, almost exactly six years ago (it turned out later that it was most likely someone getting rid of his car for the insurance).

The long ladder was out and up against the building and the pompiers in their heavy coats and oxygen tanks were lining up canvas hoses in the street when I came out of the store, and water was pumping through the fat hoses. Clusters of people were standing on the corner looking up at the fifth and sixth floors above the stores, where black smoke was pouring out of windows on both floors. It was now dark outside, but the smoke was visible against the pale building. Inside the building you could see the eerie light from a fireman's blue-white flashlight beam in the darkness. He came out on the balcony and looked down, then disappeared again into the smoky blackness. 

Did you know that most fatal fires are caused by cigarettes, when people fall asleep holding them? A new European-wide regulation requires all cigarettes sold to be self-extinguishing. It came into effect yesterday. 


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