Fires and fire-fighting in 18th and early 19th-century Paris

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Abstract

Before Napoleon, most histories tell us, the Paris fire service was totally inadequate. This changed only with the creation of the sapeurs-pompiers, a well-trained military force that became the model for other nineteenth-century fire brigades. Before the introduction of paid, uniformed firemen, fire-fighting arrangements are dismissed as brave but amateurish and ineffective. French histories, often written by former pompiers, invariably praise the military model as superior to all others. Looking at specific examples of fires in Paris, this paper argues that across the eighteenth century, they were controlled and extinguished with growing success. Subsequently, however, the nature of fires in Paris changed as new industries, new products, and new types of buildings appeared. The creation of a modern fire service was at least in part, a response to a new problem rather than to an eternal one. Even so, the Napoleonic model of organization was not as different from the old system as a reading of the regulations alone might suggest. Its introduction was also far more gradual, as authorities and urban populations struggled to understand and to adapt to the changes taking place.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-13
Number of pages13
JournalFrench History and Civilization: Papers from the George Rude Seminar
Volume7
Publication statusPublished - 2017

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