France’s emergency services and military have seen a surge of interest from young people keen to join up after watching the Paris attacks unfold on television.
“During the attacks I saw all these emergency workers helping people voluntarily. I just felt powerless sitting in front of the TV and I said to myself that I wanted to help people as well,” music student Simon Chaudemanche told AFP.
The police, fire brigade and armed forces have all reported a jump in young people asking about careers — or like Chaudemanche, wanting to volunteer for a few months.
A day or so later the 20-year-old decided to go and volunteer with the Paris fire brigade, where the recruitment office is seeing up to 20 enquiries a day — five times more than before the November 13 carnage, which left 130 people dead and 350 wounded.
Chaudemanche signed up for 10 months of community service as part of an ambulance team — run by the fire service in France — in return for a token payment of around 500 euros ($530) a month.
The military recruitment centre in Rennes, in western France, has seen a similar trend, with visitor numbers around double their normal level on many of the days after the attacks, according to recruiting officer Captain Gael Briand.
For 18-year-old Alexandre Frapard, the attacks reawakened a long-held dream of joining up and now he says he is ready to drop out of university and sign up.
“From the age of 12 or 13 I’ve wanted to join the Marines. With the attacks I thought about it again, it put the idea back in my head,” he said.
Former economics student Baptiste Girard sees himself as a fighter pilot. It is a role much in the public eye since France stepped up air strikes on Islamic State targets in Iraq and Syria.
French TV stations have flooded the airwaves over the past week with images of Rafale jets taking off on bombing runs from the Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier off the Syrian coast.
Girard says he wants to “serve the country” and “defend its values… which are being threatened.”
The police, whose elite units stormed a Paris apartment and killed the ringleader of the attacks, have also been drawing potential young recruits.
Its recruitment website saw a boom in visits after the attacks, with more than 20,000 visitors a day compared with 7,700 before.
Downloads of sign-up forms for police support officers have increased seven-fold up to 360 a day.
– Not ‘Call of Duty’ –
Despite the flood of enthusiasm, the institutions involved are keeping a cool head, refusing to ride the national wave of enthusiasm.
“We are continuing to work in exactly the same way,” said army recruiter Briand.
“It’s vital that each individual makes their decision carefully, it shouldn’t be done in a rash of emotion.”
Since the start of the year, of the 325 people who have shown an interest in joining the air force in Rennes, only 129 submitted the forms and only 26 of them were taken on.
“The army is not ‘Call of Duty’,” said Briand, warning fans of the popular video game series that real-life combat is a very different matter.
The view is echoed by a firefighter, who asked not to be named.
“Some of our youngsters doing community service were sent to help after the attacks — they went through some pretty difficult moments,” he said.
This makes the selection interview all the more important, to find those who are truly motivated for the long-term.
“We already ask them if they are really sure they want to do this job. After the attacks we will certainly stress even more the risks of having to confront extremely violent scenes,” he said.