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French firefighters: Why are they so smoking hot?

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Oliver Gee - [email protected]
French firefighters: Why are they so smoking hot?
Page from the French pompiers calendar. Photo: Fred Goudon

As France prepares for its annual 'firemen's' balls', we look at how French firefighters got their sexy reputation, and whether it's justified.

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The sheer heroism displayed by firefighters mean that they have a special cachet in most countries - but in France les pompiers have another reputation; for being smoking hot.

Like most clichés, it's true in some cases but not in others, but there are some special factors that contribute to the sexy reputation of French firefighters.

The calendars

Every year, firefighters across France sell calendars door-to-door, with proceeds going towards firefighter charities. Mostly these are tame productions featuring local firefighters going about their work, but for those in the know there is something a bit special.

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This is the annual production from photographer Fred Goudon, who produces a glossy calendar full of stylish black and white photos of nude or nearly nude firefighters - drawn from fire stations around France. 

Launched in 2016, the calendar caused an international sensation and it's still going strong - you can buy it online or from retailers such as Fnac from early autumn.

And buying it also counts as your good deed for the year - it raises money for international charities such as Pompier sans frontieres (see Goudon's site here). 

All photos from the 2016 Pompiers calendar. Reproduced with permission from Fred Goudon

But Goudon thinks it's not just the pecs and the six packs that make people go crazy for pompiers, it's also because firefighters have an almost mythical power over the public.

"For me and for many others, firefighters are heroes. Every single day, these guys are out there saving people's lives. And they're all so nice, so strong... and you can see it in the pictures that there is a kind of pride in them that others don't have.

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"It's almost as if there's some kind of casting to get into the French fire service. Someone in the recruitment must have very good taste," he joked.

 

Ingrid Meucci, spokesperson at Pompiers Sans Frontières, brushes off the idea that recruits in France are chosen on the size of their six packs. 

"Absolutely not! If you want to go out in the field, you have to be in good shape but it's not a part of the criteria. Your motivation and spirit are more important to us," she told The Local.

The workouts

As Ingrid points out, firefighting is a tough physical job, and it's obviously important to be in good shape - but firefighters in two French cities particularly stand out.

Across most of the country firefighters are civilians, often part-time in rural areas. In Paris and Marseille, however, les pompiers are part of the military (the army in Paris, the navy in Marseille).

As such, they live in barracks and have a gruelling physical schedule - at least an hour a day of gym workouts, plus a daily group run (in addition to the hard work of actually fighting fires, performing rescues and giving medical aid, of course).

This kind of intensive exercise schedule does great things to the human body, so that Paris and Marseille firefighters tend to be in excellent condition.

Those daily runs may also be a factor in their public recognition - a group of well-honed people running together in uniform shorts does tend to attract attention. 

The balls

Another factor in public affection for firefighters might be their balls, by which we mean the annual Bal de Pompiers - held on or around July 14th for France's Fête nationale.

This is often the closest most French people get to firefighters, as stations across the country open their doors to let the locals in for drinks, a celebration, a chat and possibly more.

READ ALSO What to expect from France's Fête nationale in 2023

The tradition reportedly dates back to the start of the 20th century as the firemen who took part in the parade were allowed to bring ladies back to the entrance of the station.

Different bals have different vibes, some are simply family-friendly fun while others - especially in some arrondissements of Paris or Marseille - are a little raunchier, with firefighters putting on a dance show or striptease to demonstrate the effects of those daily workouts.

Another factor might also be their sense of humour - French firefighters are naturally aware of their reputation and don't mind poking fun at it.

This video of half-naked French firefighters made headlines after miming a rendition of Call me Maybe to remind people to 'call 18' (the emergency number for fires). We should point out this was an unofficial action from pompiers in Lille, and apparently their managers were quite cross.

So there you have it - why at least some people get hot under the collar about French firefighters.

 

 
All photos: Fred Goudon. Visit his site here
 

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