The Paris, France Fire Brigade is reeling following the revelation that a recruit on the department’s elite gymnastics team had been sodomized and sexually assaulted by teammates. The incident allegedly occurred May 6, 2012 as the team was returning from a gymnastics event. On top of it all, the incident was recorded on a member’s cellphone.
To put the incident into perspective, a bit of background on France’s largest fire department is in order.
The Brigade des Sapeurs-Pompiers de Paris, (BSPP) is a military fire department, and the firefighters are active duty military personnel. France has obligatory military service and as an alternative to serving one year in the army or navy, young men and women have the option of applying to serve a 5 year commitment in either Paris (army) or Marseilles (navy) as firefighters. Promising personnel may be offered the opportunity to re-enlist for additional 5 year terms, up to a maximum of 15 years of service. Personnel who are considered to show leadership potential may be admitted into the officers ranks, which is considered to be more of a permanent career.
Given the obligatory service requirement, the Paris Fire Brigade is in the enviable position of being able to recruit the brightest, most physically fit young men and women in the nation. Service in the department is physically rigorous and a premium is placed upon agility. Failure to maintain fitness levels is grounds for dismissal.
To understand just how important agility and fitness is, all fire stations in Paris have a shelf-like platform mounted on a wall at the 8 foot level, known as an etage. All members of the BSPP must be able to hoist themselves up onto the etage as a test of their physical agility and the failure to do so when requested by a superior is grounds for summary dismissal. From scaling ladders (pompier ladders) to rope rescue capability, the department has historically placed a premium value on firefighter agility.
It is not surprising then that while many US fire departments have elite softball or hockey teams, Paris has an equally elite gymnastics squad.
The sexual assault appears to have been part of a ritualized hazing that went too far. The story came to light when the 23 year old victim complained to authorities that he had been pinched and bitten on his buttocks, and sodomized with fingers and a plastic bottle. He claims that one teammate sodomized him as others held him down, and still others looked on. He also alleged that one of the on-lookers was an officer.
The incident occurred on a bus while the team was returning from a gymnastics event in the Alsace region of France. Allegedly it was an initiation of the victim onto the gymnastics team. Two investigations have been launched, one criminal and one internal to the fire department. From news reports, a total of fifteen firefighters were involved and have appeared before a police inquest.
At the present time, four firefighters have been charged with rape, and eight others have been charged with aggravated assault.
The BSPP’s commander, General Gilles Glin, has ordered the gymnastics team to be disbanded. He condemned the incident which he said was contrary to BSPP’s core values of “generosity, devotion to duty, and altruism”.