Life and career
Belle was born in Vietnam (known as French Indochina). His father died during the First Indochina War, and Raymond was separated from his mother during the division of Vietnam in 1954. He was taken by the French Army in Da Lat and received a military education and training that shaped his character.
With the end of the Battle of Dien Bien Phu, Raymond was repatriated to France and completed his military education in 1958. At age 19, his unique physical fitness and willingness allowed him to serve at Paris' regiment of sapeurs-pompiers (military firefighters).
With his athletic ability, Raymond became the regiment's champion rope-climber and joined the regiment's elite team, composed of the unit's fittest and most agile firefighters. Its peerless members were the ones called upon to take on only the most difficult and dangerous rescue missions.
Lauded for his coolness, courage, and spirit of self-sacrifice, Raymond was to have a key role in the Parisian firefighters' first ever helicopter-borne operation. His many rescues, medals and exploits gave him a reputation of being an exceptional pompier and inspired the next young generation, especially his son David Belle and Sébastien Foucan—David's childhood friend.
He became a renowned firefighter of extraordinary athleticism and ability, dedicating his life to physical well being. He was described as nothing less than a 'force of nature'.
Raymond closely followed the teachings of Georges Hébert, namely from his book méthode naturelle in learning how best to overcome obstacles fluidly in a natural environment. He referred to his interpretation of Hébert's methods as le parcours, which was later adopted by the younger Belle and Foucan for their developing discipline. The name of their method was eventually changed to le parkour.
Raymond died in December 1999, but his memory and the record of his many acts of bravery live on, just as valid now as they were in his heyday. With his charisma and his human qualities, he left his mark on his comrades; Raymond Belle will forever embody the iconic ideal of the military fire-fighters of Paris.