Postcard from... Paris

The Bal des Pompiers is one of the France’s best-loved traditions

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The Independent Online

As France’s military shines its boots in preparation for the annual Champs Elysées parade today, others will be nursing hangovers after less austere 14 July festivities.

Disco-balls, Abba tribute-bands and firemen serving drinks may sound like a hen night to most, but the Bal des Pompiers is one of the country’s best-loved traditions. Last night stations across the country transformed engine rooms into dancefloors for revelers in their thousands.

The tradition was born, the tale has it, in 1937 at a Bastille Day jolly for firemen and their families. Having trailed a marching band of pompiers back to base, a small crowd peeped in to find them making merry. Feeling that their own celebrations were feeble by comparison, they asked if they could join in.

A stage was erected, refreshments were served and the evening was rounded off with a simulated “dash” (firemen sliding down polls to man their engines). The following year other Parisian stations followed. The bal  became a nationwide event.

There are 10,000 balls this year in fire stations, village squares and sports stadia. As a fireman at my local station pointed out: “We spend all year saving people. It’s  nice to see them dancing with a glass of champagne in hand.”