Exchange firefighters train with Salisbury Department

Three firefighters who are visiting from France to undergo training with the Salisbury Fire Department are, from left, Julien Turlure, professional firefighter; Eric Dumonceaud, professional firefighter; and Stephanie Bizet, a volunteer nurse/firefighter. At right is Assistant Fire Chief Bryan Records, who was instrumental in getting the French team here for training.

French firefighters are training, observing and answering calls alongside members of the Salisbury Fire Department this month as part of a tradition dating back to 1993 that has become known as The French Connection.

But unlike the 1971 film about heroin smuggling from the French port of Marseilles to New York, these imports are considered a very welcome addition.

“It’s been a good cultural exchange,” said Assistant Chief Bryan Records, who has known Eric Dumonceaud, a career firefighter from Agen, a town southwest of Bordeaux, since 1995.

Dumonceaud arrived for his eighth trip to Salisbury on Feb. 7, with fellow firefighter Julien Turlure and Stephanie Bizet, a volunteer nurse-firefighter who goes on ambulance calls. They will be here through Feb. 29, and bunking at Salisbury Fire Headquarters on Cypress Street.

The three were put to work almost as soon as they arrived.

“They’ve been run hard,” Records said.

The French Connection got its start after Richard Tendero of the Essonne Fire Department near Paris read a story about the Great Salisbury Muster & Olympics and called the Salisbury Fire Department, according to a history posted at fire department headquarters.

The next year, Tendero and his wife attended the event and vowed to return with a French team to compete. A group of 12 firefighters and two spouses arrived the following year to take part and were welcomed with a dinner at the Ward Museum that was attended by city, county and state officials.

In 2001, 12 more firefighters returned to take part in the muster, which used to be held at Salisbury City Park.

“We have a long tradition of cooperation,” said Dumonceaud, who was part of the first team of firefighters from Essonne in 1995. He has since taken a job in Agen.

French firefighting gear and breathing apparatus, given by Dumonceaud to Eddie Hastings, Salisbury’s retired assistant chief, are on display at headquarters.

“It’s proud for us to be there,” Dumonceaud said.

On this trip to Salisbury, the group has attended training at the Maryland Fire and Rescue Institute and also gone to fire scenes, including a fully involved house fire on Fitzwater Street last week.

They also have visited fire departments in Berlin, Ocean City, Pocomoke, Delmar, Chincoteague and Onancock, Records said.

Firefighting in France is different than in Salisbury because French houses are mostly built of stone or brick, rather than wood which is commonly used on the Eastern Shore. “The way it burns is very different,” Records said.

And the very narrow streets in many French towns pose a unique challenge when it comes to fighting fires, Dumonceaud said.

There are similarities as well. Agen’s fire department, like Salisbury’s, has both career and volunteer firefighters.

Salisbury Firefighters Doug Buck, left, French firefighter, Eric Dumonceaud, center, and Corray Heath review their performance at the scene of a house fire on Friday.

The biggest difference between France and the U.S. are the ambulance services. Salisbury’s ambulances are dispatched with a paramedic on board who administers aid to the patient with direction from an emergency room doctor via radio while en route to the hospital.

In France, a doctor and nurse from the local emergency room follow the ambulance to the scene, stabilize the patient and then transport them back to the hospital.

“It’s different,” said Bizet who works as an ER nurse and also volunteers with the fire department.

“She was interested in how we handle the protocol,” Records said.

While Dumonceaud’s English has improved over the years and is now fairly fluent, Bizet and Turlure were required to learn it before making their first trip to Salisbury.

“People are welcoming,” Bizet said. “They are very patient with my very bad English.”

Records said that in spite of the language barriers, the Salisbury firefighters enjoy the French visitors every time they come here.

“Firefighters are a brotherhood,” Dumonceaud said, “In any country that’s true.”

As your community newspaper, we are committed to making Salisbury a better place. You can help support our mission by making a voluntary contribution to the newspaper.