OVERLAND PARK, Kan. — Firefighters throughout the metro are anxiously awaiting investigators’ findings about what caused the fire that devastated Notre Dame Cathedral.
What happened there may have a direct effect on how fire departments here at home keep us safe.
The Overland Park Fire Department has a unique connection to France. As part of an exchange program, the department hosts students studying fire science from the University of Bordeaux.
The very first student is now a high-up in the Paris Fire Brigade and was most likely one of the 500 firefighters fighting to save Notre Dame Cathedral.
The department’s 24th exchange student is in town now. She was studying at the firehouse when she heard about the fire at home.
“One of the guys come and say, ‘Jeanne, Notre Dame is in fire,’” Jeanne Pasquet DesMaison said. “I was like, ‘What? What you talk about?’”
Pasquet DesMaison had a hard time comprehending what was going on in her home country until she saw it on TV. She was frustrated and saddened that she’s so far away as fire ravaged one of the world’s most important monuments.
“It is very hard to see this. When the roof collapsed, I felt very sad and very terrified because it is not just flame, it is like a part of Paris, of France and Europe touching the ground,” she said.
Pasquet DesMaison is studying under Overland Park Fire Chief Bryan Dehmer, who directed one of the largest firefighting operations in the metro. Two years ago, a building under construction at City Place Apartments became an inferno, setting off fires in about a dozen neighboring homes.
But he said comparing the City Place Apartments with the Notre Dame fire is like comparing apples and oranges.
“Fires of those magnitudes are really stressing what you typically do on a daily basis — to the point where you are foregoing normal risk management practices that you employ to keep folks safe.” Dehmer said. “The risks that your personnel are taking are extremely heightened.”
Watching Notre Dame get eaten away by flames reminds Dehmer about firefighting operations at two other historical monuments: Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle, which also held important historical relics.
“I am very interested in the folks, the many hands and heroes that ran in there. Instead of holding hoses, they probably have razor knives busting priceless works of art out of their frames rolling them up to get them out of there,” Dehmer said. “Those types of events, it’s really making sure you save the artifacts inside of these buildings while the firefight is going on.”
That type of firefighting and rescue operation takes a different type of planning.
Dehmer calls the Notre Dame fire an epic event to be followed by an almost as impressive investigation and rebuilding process.
“Especially in such a unique, special place in the heart of Paris,” Dehmer said. “I think we are all looking to see how they go about doing that. I mean there are a lot of lessons we are going to be able to learn from this event, selfishly, that someone else has paid the price for. And it will be shame on us if we don’t do our homework and learn as much as we can.”
Although different from a house fire, Dahmer wants the Notre Dame fire to remind people that everyone needs to have a fire safety plan in place at home as well as working smoke detectors.