A private contractor is set to take over the French fire brigade that monitors safety at the Eurotunnel linking France and England, raising safety concerns about the cross-Channel service, a French report said on Friday.
Firefighters from the Pas-de-Calais brigade are set to be replaced by private security guards to monitor the Channel tunnel, according to France Info radio station.
The private company operating the cross-Channel service, Eurotunnel, and the French fire service have failed to an agreement to renew their €2,7 million contract to provide primary emergency cover for the tunnel.
Employees from private security firm Onet will take over the Pas-de-Calais firefighters from the end of November. According to the report, Onet is recruiting applicants armed with first aid certificates, “composure”, and - “ideally” - some experience as volunteer firefighters. The new security teams will be in charge of “preventing fires” and “monitoring rescue equipments” but not putting fires out. Actual firefighting will continue to be carried out by the French and British fire authorities.
Critics have warned that replacing the French fire crew would have an impact on safety as there are no other fire brigades located within a ten-minute drive from the tunnel. The first ten minutes are crucial to prevent a fire from spreading.
Since the opening of the cross-Channel service in 1994, a specialised team of around 40 French firefighters were paid by Eurotunnel to provide a first response to any incident in the tunnel. An English fire crew from Kent is carrying the same tasks from the other side of the tunnel.
Several fires have disrupted operation of the tunnel in recent years. In a widely reported incident, a fire broke out on September 11, 2008 on a freight-carrying train 11 kilometres from the French entrance to the tunnel. Several people were injured from smoke inhalation and full service resumed only five months later after repairs costing €60 million.
Date created : 2012-10-05