Notre-Dame, one year later : portrait of a craftsman

14 avr. 2020

I am Jean-Baptiste Dilly, project manager at Jarnias. I have a long-standing passion for climbing and speleology, and for the past ten years I have specialised in work at height. I joined Jarnias three years ago. Jarnias specialises in work at height; our key mission is to safeguard, restore and maintain historical heritage sites. The company started 27 years ago, when the Ariane rocket launched. Jean-Paul Jarnias, who was a mountain guide, took on a slightly crazy challenge, alongside forty guides: covering the Eiffel tower with a gigantic 4,500 sq m canvas in one night. Nearly 30 years later, Jarnias has become one of the leading companies for work at height in France, with around 75 employees. Our rope technicians have worked on many of Paris's historical monuments, inspecting, protecting, restoring and safeguarding every site that needs it.

When Notre-Dame de Paris caught fire, we were quickly called on site to rainproof the cathedral. We received a registered letter and arrived on site on 17 April, with a police escort. Overnight, we had to close off some of our other sites and rally 20 of our technicians. For the next 3 days, our staff and partners worked around the clock to produce studies, build structures including huge custom tarpaulins, and bring in materials from all of Europe. The chief architect also asked us to contribute to a situational analysis, identifying the building's most fragile spots.

Since then, and until the building site had to be closed off in March, 20 to 40 of our rope technicians worked on the building 24 hours a day, 6 days a week. We methodically removed all burnt remains, making sure we did not touch the vaults which as they threatened to collapse. We also worked very hard on a method for dismantling the burnt scaffolding: as soon as the site reopens, our teams will start cutting the burnt elements of the scaffolding, using a unique access system which was conceived specially for this project. We safeguarded all entry points with protective nets and lifelines. We also attended to the needs of workers from different trades – carpenters, stonecutters, scientists from all fields, archeologists, chief architect, etc. – to help them get to inaccessible spots.

"Being a rope technician means rebuilding the past and building the future."

This building site is an exceptional way for us to showcase our work, and I hope it will give rise to new vocations. No “typical” background is needed to become a rope technician: you simply need to be meticulous – because it is about safety first – and more importantly, you need to listen, look and make progress every day. Sharing knowledge and helping one another are also some of our core values: this is how we share our know-how and stay strong together. The work of rope technicians is truly extraordinary: it allows us to build the future – for example, when we work on Grand Paris building sites – and rebuild the past – when we work on historical monuments. It is demanding, physical work, which keeps us outdoors for hours on end, come rain or shine. The reward is the freedom and accomplishment you feel when, suspended above the ground, with only your partner and harness to keep you company, in front of the world's most emblematic monuments, you have the world at his feet.