Paris’ elite cleaning unit

29th of September 2016
Paris’ elite cleaning unit

French ECJ correspondent Christian Bouzols reports on a special cleaning team that takes care of exceptional operations in Paris.

It is 6.30 on a Thursday morning in Paris. Four police coaches are keeping watch on the Place de la République in Paris. Another event, called Nuit Debout, bringing hundreds of Parisians together to discuss the changes needing to be brought to society, has just finished on the square and the cleaning teams have been at work for almost an hour. With vacuum cleaners purring, beer cans and other objects are being cleared away. All the cleaning operatives have their designated task.

“My job is to sweep bottles and glass fragments. Others drive the washer. And another colleague, wearing a special suit and a breathing mask, handles the corner where people have done their business,” explains Lassana, 42, who since 2006 has been a cleaner for La Fonctionnelle, the elite unit in charge of keeping Paris clean.

La Fonctionnelle is a special corps of cleaners under the responsibility of the Town Hall entrusted with all the exceptional cleaning operations in Paris that can’t be handled by the local council cleaning services. That’s because their work requires special equipment and needs to be done at specific times. Therefore the assignments of this corps of 400 people vary considerably.

They range from festive events (Gay Pride and Techno Parade) to sporting fixtures (Marathon and supporter areas to watch the Euro 2016 football championship) and demonstrations. This cleaning brigade also sweeps the Périphérique motorway, the banks of the Seine and rather more sensitive and dramatic scenes. These include the scenes of traffic accidents, street brawls, crimes and terror attacks - such as the one that took place at Le Bataclan.

La Fonctionnelle can be deployed immediately on a 24/7 basis. It was therefore obvious for the Town Hall to call on its services right from the start of the Nuit Debout events, which take place on April 1.

“Ever since the event was launched we’ve been arriving early in the morning to support the Arrondissement cleaners with a task force of some 10 people,” explains Basile Saint-Carlier, deputy head of the unit. “At the beginning things were a little complicated because people were sleeping in the open air. So we had to wait for the arrival of the police. Now as we arrive, there aren’t any people left. And less heavy refuse.”

Broken bottles and yellow kebab boxes, stained with ketchup, are piling up around skips and dustbins. “We collect something like 40 to 400 cubic metres of refuse every morning,” he adds. “The amount can vary, but we find dirt all the time, especially at weekends.”

At 7 am, the motorised street sweepers come into play, jet cleaning the pavement with water. “From 8 am onwards there are many people and traffic on the square. So in order to work safely we do our best to finish before that time,” said Basile Saint-Carlier. “This is also necessary because if there’s a traffic accident somewhere, part of our team may need to be deployed there.”


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