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Rome Reports

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Discover how the Vatican firefighters work

What is a day in the life of a firefighter in the smallest State in the world? There are usually no big emergencies, but when they do happen these men are always ready.

The 37 firefighters that make up the Vatican team must be available 24 hours a day. Alessandro Fontanella has been in service for 26 years.

Team Leader, Vatican Fire Department

"We carry out about 500 rescues of various types during the course of a year. We are talking about blocked elevators, floods, opening doors...Basically, anything that is needed. We serve in the Holy Father’s ceremonies and also in those in St. Peter’s Square."

He says one of the most difficult types of rescues are those at the top of St. Peter’s dome, which is almost 450 feet high. The dome is extremely narrow and has 600 stairs leading to it, so many fail to reach the top.

Team Leader, Vatican Fire Department
"Many times I’ve seen the problems the dome brings, since it’s very narrow. In those cases we have to carry people down who suffer from dizziness or are ill due to the height of the dome. We must also take care of people. The rescues in the dome are the most difficult, they are very frequent in summer due to the intense heat and especially with the elderly people... "

The requirements to enter this fire department are one must be Catholic, younger than 25 years old and male. Although they say the latter could change in the future.

Vatican Firefighter

"I entered because of the faith we have in our Lord and also for the ability to help the people who live here. FLASH We see all that surrounds us, all this art and it is a State within another State, I think it represents something fantastic."

Team Leader, Vatican Fire Department

"One feels like the main character because of having faith and hope. It's very nice to work on events like the Jubilee and all the special ceremonies."

They say that once during a celebration at Christmas a candle set fire to several ornaments. They also explain that there was a provoked fire in Vatican territory that they are still investigating.

The firefighters’ patrons are St. Barbara and Pope Leo IV. Legend has it that this pope managed to put out the great Borgo fire, in the Vatican vicinity, in the year 847 with his blessing.

Although they do not have many fires to extinguish now, these men give their all day-after-day to maintain security and peace in the State where Peter's successor sleeps.