The Paris firemen: to protect populations for 2 centuries.
In the 17th century, more precisely in 1699, the introduction of Dumouriez’ pumps in Paris, as a result of a royal contract, laid the foundation of what was to become the sappers of the capital. This organization, we only know the outlines, faced ups and downs. Nevertheless it continued to develop itself. At the time the tactics of fire-fighting were crude. The know-how and the boldness of the building workers who joined the firefighters were the only guidelines for actions of rescue or fireghting.
After the Revolution the sappers spontaneously took a pledge of allegiance to the new regime. The Directoire, the Consulate and the Empire hardly brought any change to the declining organization. The first Consul realized the corps’ needs of reform. However the establishment of a new organization, after the prefecture of Paris Police creation, was unsuccessful. The arson at the Ball in the Austrian embassy in 1810, during the celebration of Emperor’s marriage to Marie-Louise reminded him the vital importance of efficient firefighting in Paris.
Despite the courage and the dedication of the sappers, who were occasionally wrongly accused of shortcomings, the firefighting service was far from being perfect: delays, shortage of equipment, lack of reliability, poorly trained personnel and incompetent officers. The sappers present at the embassy on the day of the arson were cleared of suspicion following an investigation carried out by the Count of Montalivet. However, the heads of the former organization were dismissed and the unit of sappers was suppressed.
After this catastrophe the Emperor reorganized the public service and created the first military unit of firefighters, whose members were the sappers of the Imperial Guard in charge of preventing and fighting fires in the Imperial Palaces.
The creation of the Paris Battalion of fire fighters, by imperial decree, on Sempteber 18, 1811 was both original and innovative in so far as it turned a civilian and municipal unit into a military one. The choice choice of such an atypical status for this public service echoed the creation of the Paris Police Prefecture, 11 years before, as much legal as administrative singular authority.
Thus and ever since its creation, this military unit was placed under the authority of the Police Prefect in charge of safeguarding the French capital.
This military status with the subordination to a Prefect became the logical result of the decree of “12 Messidor An 8”.
Nowadays the military characteristics still ensure Parisians and the 3 closest departments (“la petite couronne”) a trustworthy and reliable level of protection.