CERN Accelerating science

Firefighter at CERN

The CERN Fire Brigade - professionals at your service

Stéphane Wiand, a CERN firefighter since 2002, has been a delegate with the Staff Association since 2009. His main motivation to join the SA was to understand how CERN works and the decision-making process that impacts both the financial and social conditions of all staff at CERN.

Stéphane Wiand: "In the fire brigade, we often have the impression that there is a certain amount of distance between us and the Organization. It is important for me to understand who makes the decisions that govern our lives and how I can influence them.

SA: Stéphane, can you tell us about your profession and more generally about the fire brigade?

SW: The CFRS (CERN Fire and Rescue Service) is composed of 48 firefighters working in rotation, a fire chief, on duty officers, seconded firefighters (e.g. at LHC Point 5) and administrative staff, making a total of about 60 people, both males and females. Some have indefinite contracts; others are on limited-duration contracts. It should be noted that there were five new hires in September. About ten nationalities are represented.

Rapid interventions with minimal impact on CERN are what counts.

The hard and difficult tasks of firefighters present significant risks. The frequency and nature of their interventions, action and prevention strategies require them to use different means depending on the intervention areas, whether above or below ground.

It should be noted that being a firefighter at CERN requires a lot of specific knowledge and expertise compared to city firefighters. It is necessary to know perfectly the different components of the CERN environment such as: radiation, electricity, cryogenics, gas, underground etc. The CFRS is also consulted to prevent accidents in confined spaces, in the case of working at heights if expertise is required, and sometimes in the field of environmental protection.

The CFRS must be able to intervene quickly and act according to all the specificities of CERN installations. The watchword is to intervene as effectively and quickly as possible in order to limit the impact on these installations and allow science to resume as soon as possible. Each intervention by the fire brigade on site (and especially in the tunnel) involves a chain of consequences on the proper functioning of the machine and this requires people who know CERN perfectly. This feature is also interesting for firefighters who leave CERN and return to their original quarters with this new knowledge. It is a real asset for the rest of their careers.

When leaving at the end of a limited duration contract, it is essential to pass on the knowledge to the new firefighters who arrive. This training is essential to ensure perfect team turnover. 

With a brigade of 48 firefighters, the rotation is ensured. For example, in the specialized ambulance team, 6 firefighters have passed the Swiss Federal Ambulance Technician Examination and 6 others are already being trained. The HUG partnership also works very well. In addition to quality training, the HUG will soon allow ambulance staff to follow more advanced medical protocols for better patient care on the CERN sites. That's very good news.

The Staff Association extinguished fires in the CERN Fire Brigade

SA: Can you give us examples where the Staff Association has played an important role in the life of the brigade?

SW: Yes, in 2005/2006, the CFRS had some difficult months.  The management at the time had planned to get rid of the CFRS. The future of the service was uncertain, and the period was very complicated for everyone. The operational minimum was no longer guaranteed. Despite this, the brigade was committed to ensuring the protection of CERN and its employees. Some colleagues were on sick leave due to professional exhaustion. The SA contributed greatly, in the background, playing an influential role in preventing the service from disappearing. It was a great source of moral support for those colleagues who were suffering.  The incident in the LHC in 2008, on the one hand, and the arrival of the new Director General Rolf Heuer, on the other, provoked a radical shift. Human, material and financial resources were provided and enabled the brigade to get back to working under better conditions. Thank you to Dr. Heuer and the SA.

It should be noted that this dynamic, which is conducive to work, is currently continuing: just like the HUG partnership, the tripartite agreements (mutual assistance between CERN firefighters, the Ain and Geneva departments) have been renewed, a new fire training container on the training centre site is in operation and the new SCR (Safety Control Room) project is in progress. The latter is eagerly awaited by the 12 colleagues in charge of the SCR.

Further examples of the Staff Association's influence on the life of the brigade:

In 2012, as a firefighter staff representative, I worked with the Staff Association in the CCP subgroup on the revision of Administrative Circular No. 25 (circular applicable to those working in the fire service).  This circular describes the organisation of the service in terms of working time and rest. A good collaboration between the Staff Association, the fire brigade and management has allowed a long-term revision of the Administrative Circular. In this exercise, the work-life balance was ensured taking into account CERN's needs and the EU's recommendations regarding shift work.

This experience is a concrete example that being a SA delegate allows you to take part in the decisions that govern procedures and my role as a delegate has also helped my fellow firefighters (through me) to influence the consultation process.

SA: The elections of the delegates of the Staff Association for the next two years are taking place as we speak, have you decided to stand again?

SW: YES of course!

Many thanks to Stéphane for his time. For more information on firefighters: