CERN's first female firefighter

Until recently, the women's changing room in the Fire Station, built in 2005, has always been empty. With the arrival of Séverine Peverelly, CERN's first female firefighter, it now has a purpose.

Séverine Peverelly took up her post as a firefighter in April.

Séverine, who comes from Gap in France, took up her post as a firefighter in the CERN fire brigade at the beginning of April. "We were looking for a new member," explains David Peyron, Head of the Fire and Rescue Service. It didn't matter if it was a man or a woman; we needed a firefighter with the right skills, and Séverine just happened to have them."

With ten years experience working in French fire services, Séverine was looking for a new challenge. "What attracted me to CERN was the international dimension, because that creates additional challenges," she explains. And these can be considerable! For one thing, every country has its own way of working, its own equipment and its own drills. "For example, in France we unroll the hoses from the fire towards the fire engine, whereas in Italy they do it the other way round. So, common procedures are needed to ensure that interventions are as efficient as possible." Then there's the language barrier. The 50 firefighters in the brigade represent 10 different nationalities. That's nothing unusual at CERN but the nature of the job accentuates the problems. "First of all you have to master the technical terms," says Séverine. And then there are the physiological constraints. You might be in the dark, in a smoke-filled area, wearing breathing apparatus. Even if you can't hear or see each other very well, you still have to be able to communicate. For that, everyone has to know each other well, hence the importance of exercises and community life."

Séverine spent her first month being introduced into the fire brigade's four different teams (see box), before joining her permanent team at the beginning of May. When asked if being a woman, the first in the brigade, got in the way of her becoming part of the team, she simply replies, "Here, I'm not a woman, I'm a firefighter! I do sport and drills just like my colleagues. There's no difference, except for my changing room, which is separate. I've had no problem settling in." What's more, her colleagues are delighted that she has joined the brigade, as her supervisor, Pierre-Louis Dolmazon, testifies: "Diversity is important in our Service, so the arrival of a female firefighter was a logical step. To draw a parallel, Séverine's arrival has been like the discovery of a particle. There was much excitement and a lot of speculation before she got here. This was followed by a period of observation. Now, we can use our discovery to move forward". Marc Chataigneau, Group Administrative Officer, sums up the general feeling when he says, "I hope there will be more Séverines!"

The teams in the brigade

The CERN fire brigade is divided into four teams: the purple team, which Séverine has joined, and the blue, red and green teams. Each team has a team leader, a deputy, three leading firefighters and five other firefighters. They are divided up so as to ensure a good nationality balance and, above all, a good balance of expertise. Each team has a paramedic, a breathing apparatus specialist, a Hazardous Environments Response Team specialist, a radiation protection specialist, a first aid supervisor, etc.

by Alizée Dauvergne