An Irish woman in Paris takes her hat off to the Parisian firefighters who salvaged what they could of the iconic church Notre Dame and who have been a support to Parisian community life for decades

Paris - The towers and structure of Notre Dame, Quasimodo’s bells, the sacred Crown of Thorns, the interior cross, the world-famous rose window, the organs, and many other relics and artifacts have been saved by the Paris firefighters, one of whom was seriously injured during the operation.

Thankfully none of the 400+ men and women, who fought the fire from 5:50pm on Monday (April 15), till Parisians awoke to go to work, lost their lives. Apparently, the fact that they fearlessly entered the gothic edifice, during the apocalyptic blaze, led to the success of the operation. This was a ‘manpower’ operation. Even if Paris had firefighting planes on hand, they wouldn’t have been able to use them as dumping tons of water on Notre Dame, (although an easier way to fight the fire than hand to hand combat), could have been completely destroyed the structure of the building.

Paris firefighters leaving Notre Dame and crews continue to quash the fire.

Paris firefighters leaving Notre Dame and crews continue to quash the fire.

All my Irish family and friends who visited me in Paris over the years adored Notre Dame. Even my brother in law who was fed up of being dragged around old churches and monuments had a nice memory of it.

One of my Irish friends got vertigo as we trudged up the windy stairs to visit the top of one of the towers. However, having started, there was no going back on our French guide’s watch, and we just had to keep going. She gasped Parisian air through narrow stone windows with gargoyles frowning at her as she attempted to lean out. How to affront vertigo, head on, being judged by a French guide and a gargoyle!

Many Irish people at home and around the world have indelible memories and their own stories about the fabulous gothic building.

The stunning Notre Dame, Paris.

The stunning Notre Dame, Paris.

When visiting Paris, you may have seen the fire men’s campaign posters in the subway and at other sites around Paris. It mentions that every year “one in five persons call on the French fire brigade to rescue them, but only one in a thousand ever donates to the fund for the orphans of deceased firemen”. Since the beginning of this year, four French firemen have died in the line of duty. In January 27-year-old Nathanaël Josselin lost his life in an explosion while responding to a gas leak at 6 rue de Trévise, in Paris 75009. He left behind his young widow and his four-year-old son.

“One in five people call on the fire brigade every year?” You might wonder if apart from last night, is there is a community of resident pyromaniacs in Paris.

All over the world, it seems that firefighters are devoted people motivated by helping others rather than by hefty salaries. However, in France, their ‘help’ extends above and beyond their excellent and fearless firefighting skills.

In France you call the fire brigade when you’re locked out and don’t want to get ripped off by an emergency locksmith, when a pregnant lady faints, when your cat is stuck up a tree, when you fall down with a heart attack or when you feel that Parisian life has just gotten too much and you can’t go on…

Every French man, woman, and child knows the firemen’s telephone number, “18”, and many a life has been saved by dialing the two-digit number.

Parisians get to dance with their hunky firemen and delightful fire ladies. The firemen’s balls, (as in a dance), on and around Bastille Day on July 14, held in their caserns all around Paris, are a fun tradition. The firemen’s charity calendar sells as quickly as it’s printed. Who can resist an altruistic hunk? The French people adore them and even before quenching Notre Dame’s blaze the firefighters were already the most or one of the most respected professions in Paris.

On July 16, 1942, just two days after Bastille day, in Nazi-occupied Paris, the French police force rounded up Jews in an operation called “Spring Breeze.” Over 13,000 Jews (31% of them children) were herded into, and incarcerated in a bicycle racing stadium, and held in appalling conditions. There was no food, water or sanitary conditions and they were kept there until they were transported to the camps. (Some people were secretly warned by the French Resistance or hidden by neighbors and escaped being rounded up).

A photo during the liberation of Paris, in World War II, with Notre Dame in the background.

A photo during the liberation of Paris, in World War II, with Notre Dame in the background.

Seeing the people begging for water, and going completely against the Nazi’s and the French police orders, the fire chief and his firemen used hoses to give the thirsty incarcerated Jews water. How many groups in the world openly defied the Nazis, who must have been so shocked at being told ‘NO spells no’, that the firemen miraculously got away with a little humanity in the face of gross inhumanity.

I know many Irish people, from all over the world have already donated and will donate, to the restoration of Notre Dame. As I live in Paris, my first donation will go to the men and women who saved Notre Dame; real-life superheroes who are unanimously revered by all the French. A rare occurrence, the only possible competition being the French team on the days they came home with the world cup trophy.

The roof and spire of Notre Dame collapsed during the massive blaze.

The roof and spire of Notre Dame collapsed during the massive blaze.

The firefighters were given a standing ovation by Parisians and tourists as they wearily left the quenched fire scene this morning. I wasn’t at Notre Dame to clap, but like so many people in Paris, in France, and around the world, I take off my cap to their generosity, bravery, and professionalism which kept the towers of Notre Dame standing.

Many people shed tears between last night and this morning, but words can bring comfort. I was consoled by “Paris” a poem, written by the American poetess Willa Carther in 1923, which a friend posted on Facebook last night.


by Willa Cather, 1873 - 1947.

Behind the arch of glory sets the day;

The river lies in curves of silver light,

The Fields Elysian glitter in a spray

Of golden dust; the gilded dome is bright,

The towers of Notre Dame cut clean and gray

The evening sky, and pale from left to right

A hundred bridges leap from either quay.

Pillared with pride, the city of delight

Sits like an empress by her silver Seine,

Heavy with jewels, all her splendid dower

Flashing upon her, won from shore and main

By shock of combat, sacked from town and tower.

Wherever men have builded hall or fane

Red war hath gleaned for her and men have slain

To deck her loveliness. I feel again

That joy which brings her art to faultless flower,

That passion of her kings, who, reign on reign,

Arrayed her star by star with pride and power.

 If you’d like to donate to the rebuilding of Notre Dame in Paris you can do so here.

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