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Extreme weather events: civil defence personnel on the front line

Storms, fires, floods in Libya, Canada, Greece, France... Climate change and the increasing number of disasters are forcing civil protection military training to adapt.
Pompiers sur un intervention de feu de forêt

It's a clear sign of climate change and the need to adapt to it: this summer, Operation Hephaestus, the name given to the armed forces' involvement in the fight against forest fires, was extended to cover the whole of mainland France. Previously, since 1984, it had covered "only" around twenty départements, all in the south of the country. "We can now speak of a nationalisation of this mission, traditionally assigned to the south of France", commented Colonel Stanislas Rouquayrol, Commander of the Civil Protection Military Training Corps (ForMiSC), at the time of the announcement in July.

Carte de la zone d'opération Héphaïstos

Military Staff 

Since 1988, the ForMiSC units, which are part of the army's engineering arm (like the Paris fire brigade), have been made available to the Ministry of the Interior, as part of the very broad Directorate-General for Civil Protection and Crisis Management (DGSCGC). The DGSCGC oversees more than 350,000 civil protection personnel throughout the country, including 250,000 professional fire fighters, 100,000 volunteers and 2,500 civil servants.

1408 LIFEGUARDS CURRENTLY, ALMOST 2000 IN 2027

There are 1,408 ForMiSC military experts, known as sappers. Their missions are far more than just fighting forest fires. Specialised and autonomous, their detachments are capable of intervening in all natural or technological disasters, in times of peace, crisis or war, both in France and abroad: floods, pollution, cyclones, contamination, earthquakes, landslides, building collapses, etc. They can, for example, provide NRBC (nuclear, radiological, biological and chemical) expertise, or drone support for mine clearance or securing rescue operations.

They have rare and specific equipment for their different areas of intervention, to complement local or regional resources.

In France, ForMiSCs act in emergencies as back-up for the fire brigade, but also in support of police forces, particularly in the fight against terrorism. Abroad, they respond to requests for assistance from countries hit by disasters. They also provide numerous training courses for the armed forces and fire brigades, both in France and abroad.

ForMiSC currently comprises three Civil Protection Training and Intervention Units (UIISC):

- UIISC 1, created in 1978 and based in Nogent-le-Rotrou (Eure-et-Loir)

- UIISC 5, set up in 1988 and based in Corte (Haute-Corse)

- UIISC 7, the oldest, created in 1974 and based in Brignoles (Var)

In October 2022, the French President announced the creation of a 4th UIISC to deal with the increasing number and intensity of climatic and natural events. Based in Libourne (Gironde), it will come into operation in 2024 and should have 565 rescue engineers by 2027.

THE FIELD HOSPITAL IS CURRENTLY À DERNA (LIBYA)

In 2022, the ForMiSCs were deployed on 273 different missions, including 92 forest fire missions in France, in Corsica or on Reunion Island, for example. They were also involved in technological risk prevention at major events such as the Nice carnival and the Cannes festival.

Thirteen missions took place abroad, including four convoys to Ukraine, as well as deployments to Pakistan to purify water after floods, to Madagascar after cyclone Batsirai, to Greece for fires, to Chad following floods...

Of course, the list of missions for this year has not yet been finalised. The ForMiSC field hospital is currently in Derna, Libya, following dramatic flooding. This summer, they also responded to forest fires in Canada and Chile, and in February they went to Turkey to search for earthquake victims and treat them in the field hospital. One of the units has just returned from Slovenia, where it carried out clearance operations following flooding.