Latest update: 05/11/2012
Probe launched after French teenage firefighter dies in blaze
The tragic death of a 16-year-old French volunteer firefighter, killed while tackling his first blaze, has prompted authorities to launch an immediate probe. Yann Simeoni died along with a 35-year-old colleague in the Alpine town of Dignes-Les-Bains.
By FRANCE 24 (text)
An inquiry has been launched in France after two firefighters, including a 16-year-old volunteer tackling his first fire, died in a blaze in the Alps.
The teenager, named as Yann Simeoni, and a 35-year-old colleague died whilst on-duty, fighting a house-fire in the town of Digne-Les-Bains in the Alps-de-Haute Provence region on Saturday.
It is believed the two men were overcome when the fire spread rapidly through the house. It is unsure whether the sudden flare-up was caused by air rushing in from outside -- a phenomenon known as “backdraft” -- or by a gas explosion.
French President François Hollande paid tribute to the two victims. In a statement from the Elysée Palace, Hollande “saluted the courage of all professional firefighters and volunteers.”
Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault also acknowledged their bravery. He said: “The French know they can rely on the courage and dedication of firefighters. This tragedy is a reminder that their commitment to others can go as far as sacrificing their own lives.”
Local prosecutor Pierre-Jean Gaury said authorities had launched an immediate inquiry into the deaths.
Questions have been asked over why a young volunteer was given the responsibility of dealing with such a dangerous fire during his first emergency call-out.
But fire brigade chiefs have defended deploying the teenager, who was one of 50 firefighters tasked with extinguishing the blaze.
“The regulations say that anyone aged 16 can be recruited. Yann was undertaking three years of training and was under the guidance of an experienced firefighter,” Colonel Thierry Cadet told Europe 1 radio.
The teenager’s distraught grandfather Roger Simeoni said Yann had always dreamed of being a firefighter.
“It was his future. Everything lay ahead of him,” he said. “It was his first weekend on duty as a firefighter and it was his first fire. He was young and full of life. You never expect something like this will happen.”