During my time as a community volunteer, as described in the ramble ‘community service and home-front support’, I, along with about 250 others, was asked to role-play as part of a series of emergency service response exercises. I volunteered for two of these exercises on separate occasions.
The first was in the police training facility near Wakefield. This was a brand-new facility catering for most scenarios that a police officer may encounter. One of the buildings is the size of an aircraft hanger and in it is a village. The village construction is of basic breezeblock, there’s no glass in the windows and the furniture is plastic covered foam. They were not designed to live in, but were ideal for carrying out different role-play events. I suspect that the military have something very similar but probably won’t be able to resist wrecking theirs.
Scenario 1: a chemical attack on a pub
Anyway, a terrorist chemical attack was supposed to have taken place in the village pub, and each volunteer was given a card around our necks describing our symptoms and placed in different areas of the village. I was placed on the bus and I was initially disappointed that my card read “NO SYMPTOMS”. It was much later when I discovered how lucky I was.
All the volunteers took their places, and a siren indicated the imaginary attack. The first people to arrive on the bus were the fire service who were carrying out a triage assessment. As I had no symptoms, I was told to make my way to the gate (the village boundary).
As I made my way around, I noticed many more fire service and police personnel. From where I eventually stood, I could witness our emergency services working at their best. The police took up the perimeter cordon and it seemed that the fire service were the ones to extract the victims away from the area.
Emergency personnel (and Mr Blobby) spring into action
In the car park we could see two long anti-contamination chambers had just been assembled and several ambulances. Presumably the medical personnel were dealing with patients and victims in the car park after the fire service took them away from the scene, and the police were to stop people moving in or out of the area.
The fire service were stars. For some reason they did not – or were not allowed to – use stretchers, even though there must have been dozens in the car park, so they used anything they could lay their hands on to drag people away, carpets from the pub, tarpaulins from who knows where.
There was one chap, odds are that it would have been a chap, who was dressed from head to foot in a bright yellow anti-contamination suit; he looked like Mr Blobby, or perhaps a character from a 1960s James Bond film. In fact, he was dressed more than head to foot. These suits must be one size fits all and were designed for someone six foot four and 250 lbs and the poor chap in it was not.
His hands, feet or head did not reach the extremities of the suit and he was constantly tripping over its feet part, or adjusting the arms and helmet so he could do something useful. But credit to him, he persevered throughout the whole hour and a half exercise. God loves a trier.
Oscar-worthy acting from volunteer ‘dead body’
Another that deserved credit was a chap, definitely a chap this time, who was a victim of the initial attack in the pub. The organisers must have asked for a volunteer to be a dead body and he put his heart and soul into it.
He was already in his position when I arrived at my observation point. He had apparently staggered out of the pub and collapsed in the street, (in this case the concrete floor of the hanger) and had lain there the whole time. The fire service must have earlier read his “DEAD” label and ignored him ever after.
He never moved; he was obviously after an Oscar (is there an Oscar for the best dead body?). Our small group of “NO SYMPTOMS” observers would often speculate that he must really be dead by now, and a small encouraging cheer would go up if chest movement was observed, then our attention would be drawn back to Mr. Blobby falling over again. The dead body man was still there when we left an hour and a half later. He may be there yet, being used as a mini roundabout outside the pub.
Send in the army
Among our group of “NO SYMPTOMS” observers were three army lads. Towards the end of the exercise their commanding officer came to have a word with us. I very much hope that the colonel was part of the official observation party. I’m sure if the army alone had been charged with this evacuation, there would have been none of this pussyfooting about.
They surely would have just scooped everybody up with a JCB, the driver would be wearing the Mr Blobby suit – no running about required – and he could then have deposited all the victims at one end of the anti-contamination chamber in ten minutes, job done, let’s go down the pub. Perhaps not that pub, as they didn’t have any beer anyway.
Scenario 2: attack on a city centre
Another scenario that I attended was for an emergency response to a major chemical spillage in a city centre. We were told to take a change of clothing, preferably swimwear, for we were likely to be hosed down. We gathered in a meeting hall in Bradford. Two theatre makeup artists were employed to give several victims a realistic injury, and what a fantastic job they did.
We were then paraded out wearing our budgie smugglers, through a car park and past several emergency service personnel with equipment at the ready, and then we all walked through a temporary accident and emergency department set up in an adjacent building apparently just for this exercise.
Although there was lots of pointing and mumbling, nobody was stopped, hosed down or treated, and four hours after arriving we all went home, slightly colder than when we arrived but none the wiser.
Lessons learned (?)
I can only assume that something was gained or learned from these exercises, but both baffled me. The only thing that I took away was that, if you see a large flash on the horizon, clouds of green or pink smoke in the air, do not go to investigate. In fact, go home immediately, gather together emergency rations and run for the hills passing through as many rivers as safely possible on the way.