At their centre in Haguenau, eastern France, about 120 firefighters are being trained in more than just first aid and emergency response techniques.
As part of a pilot project in the Bas-Rhin department, the emergency services personnel are learning, of all things, hypnosis.
”It's verbal and breathing techniques and gestures that all aim to lower anxiety and lessen pain, but of course they won't replace classic emergency care,” Bas-Rhin firefighters' head nurse Cécile Colas-Nguyen told regional daily l'Est Republicain.
The push to expand the firefighters repertoire of stress-fighting skills is unique in France, and will be subjected to a review when training has concluded.
Administrators at Haguenau believe the techniques can be useful when the emergency services are working, for example, to free a person who is lodged in their vehicle following a traffic accident or helping someone trapped under rubble.
Anyone suffering an asthma or convulsive attack could also benefit from the iniative.
The emergency services workers are being trained to keep an eye on the victims' breathing while they themselves have been instructed to keep calm and use soothing language.
They must also avoid using negative words when speaking.
”While my colleagues are taking care of your safety, you will focus your mind on being out on the ski slopes, while your body stays here,” one young firefighter told a woman taking part in an exercise where she pretended to be in a car accident at the centre in Haguenau.
The woman had previously told him that she enjoyed winter sports.
Haguenau emergency services chief David Ernenwein told l'Est Republicain that he was convinced the methods were beneficial.
”We had already noticed that things went better if we held the person's hand, even though we didn't categorize it as 'hypnosis',” he said.
”This technique will give us the key to making victims suffer less.”
The centre's medical head, Yves Durrman, said he would like to see the iniative rolled out nationally.
An interior minister official,meanwhile, said that it remained to be seen if the emergency services workers could apply the new techniques in a real distress situation, under considerable pressure.
”We have known for a long time that (hypnosis) works, that it is not a placebo,” Dr. Stéphane Donnadieux, who consults the civil security department, told the newspaper.
”But it requires that people be well trained. The emergency services personnel can only receive limited training, so we're talking about using certain hypnotic techniques rather than hypnosis,” he added.
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