Our team was at the Preventica conference to participate in the feedback from the Belgian firemen brigade

The recent events around Notre-Dame de Paris reminded us how essential the firefighting profession is to the life of a community. Indeed, this profession, which enthralls more than just some of us, was recently part of the HappyIndexAtWork study, which found the profession the most dangerous and least liked by the public.

In addition to the salary and well-being of these professionals, their working conditions were also taken into account. In other words:

  • the risk of death related to the activity
  • the possibility of debilitating injuries related to the performance of duties
  • on-scene hostility (whether on the part of those involved in the incident or in light of the firefighters’ interventions at the scene).


Firemen in Belgium, a decentralized response force

The Deputy Commander of the Brussels fire department attended the Preventica conference on May 21–23, 2019 to attest to the experience of firefighters in Brussels and to call for the sharing of experiences.

Beginning with an inventory of the Belgian territory, he explained its division. Belgium is basically divided into three regions:

  • the Flemish region
  • the Walloon region
  • Brussels

Each region then has three potential levels of disaster assessment:

  • municipal
  • provincial (ex: Brussels)
  • national

Each commune is also required to have an intervention plan for emergencies. Although France also has municipal safety plans, Belgium differentiates the safeguarding of operational plans in order to define strategies.

It’s the responsibility of the mayor to ensure that coordination takes place. Where distinctions between responsibilities are made, the mayor can designate an emergency planner in his or her administration.


Why is Belgium so prone to crises?

Because the mainland primarily includes areas for housing and service industries. Indeed, the capital has more than 1.2 million people, but very few industrial sites.

What’s more, Brussels by nature also hosts many institutions, national headquarters and European communities, including NATO.

This influx of major political institutions make Brussels a prime target. Apart from the risk of attacks, the number of strikes and demonstrations is exploding in cities with a high concentration of public administrations. This is also the case in Brussels.

Out of 80,000 calls per year, nearly 1,000 are related to strikes.

Let’s also remember that an event where there’s a concentration of diverse people is always more prone to trouble (whether accidental or intentional). Additionally, access on the part of first responders is always tricky.


What are the resources of the Brussels brigade?

In human and logistical terms, there are 1,700 firefighters in the capital city.

These firefighters can cover 90% of the territory in less than nine minutes.

They also have training as EMTs. This means they can also provide medical assistance when necessary.

However, the situation is not the same throughout the rest of Belgium. Some regions divide tasks assigned to firemen between actual fire fighting duties and driving private sector ambulances called for medical emergencies.


A quasi-military division of labor

The particularity of firefighters in Brussels lies in the training of specialized brigades. Their services include:

  • height rescue
  • casual extraction team
  • underwater response
  • animal rescue
  • aid with dog-assisted searches


Iron Discipline

Discipline can be defined by the division of first responders. These divisions help better identify crisis situations and assign operational command to the forces involved, and specifically to those best trained respond to them.

  1. Emergency services
  2. Medical with psychosocial care
  3. Law enforcement
  4. Logistics for civil or even armed protection
  5. Administrative (decision-making and media relations)


France in the heat of the moment

In numbers, France records:

  • Between 200 to 500 calls per day, which is approximately one call every six seconds
  • More than 900 fire trucks, some of which are linked to satellites
  • Investments in appropriate personal protective equipment Detection vehicles with mass spectrometers are a good example. A rare but necessary utility, they’re used to detect chemical compounds in the event of a disaster.


Firemen in Lyon also benefit from:

  • Adapted and relevant training (e.g. night training in airports for firefighters in Lyon)
  • Two mobile decontamination units with a capacity of 10 disabled victims and 50 able-bodied victims per hour, plus one bacteriological decontamination unit
  • A call processing center dedicated to fire fighters

This departmental fire and rescue operational center receives 500,000 calls from 18 of the 112 Rhône departments and the Lyon metropolitan area.


In conclusion, the management of emergency and fire services in Belgium is distinguished by the strategic organization of its territory and the forces involved.

France, on the other hand, focuses on equipment and infrastructure to provide itself with the necessary means for rapid intervention and the evacuation of injured people.


To read: Firefighting, a highly technical profession