Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Les Sapeurs Pompiers

Today I was taking a much-needed break at a café on the rue de Sevres. Sitting on the terrasse sipping my Coca Light, relaxing. Suddenly a big red Parisian fire truck, les Sapeurs Pompiers, pulled up across the street. The café owner ran out and motioned to the Sapeurs where to come in. I hadn't smelled any smoke, and didn't think there was a fire back in the kitchen. Next one, then two, then three of the Sapeurs in their nice blue outfits came into the café. "Voilà, il est là," gestured the owner.

Evidently a man had fainted in the back, and the Sapeurs were there in their function as EMTs. I was impressed with the non-rubbernecking of the clients in the café. They all went about their business, because whatever had happened to that poor man was not their business.

Then a curious thing happened. The Sapeur who was waiting on the street -- by now the truck was parked out front with orange traffic cones -- took his long folding wrench and opened a valve under the manhole cover and water flowed along the curb into the street, the way it does for the Green Men who are cleaning the gutters.

Then it dawned on me. There are no fire hydrants in Paris. None. I've always been a fan of the quirky sculptural quality of fire hydrants in the US. They simply don't exist in Paris; perhaps they did once, but no more.

As I was leaving the café, I asked the handsome Sapeur (meanwhile wondering if good looks are part of the job description) about my revelation. Yes, he confirmed, "tous les postes d'eau à Paris sont souterrains" -- all water outlets for firefighting in Paris are underground.

Funny, I thought to myself, no fire hydrants in a city that loves dogs so much...

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