Burn, baby, burn.

What did you do for this year’s Halloween? Dance to Thriller? Take a haunted tour? Maybe spend the night being chased by a man in a hockey mask from the safety of your sofa and blanket?

Imagine going through a massive jungle gym that’s so dark you can’t see the gas mask on your face, in a room that stinks of choking chemicals. Your mission is to find a rapidly fading body, cut off the source of their blackening lungs and melting flesh while flames spew from the walls around you. Your help is protective gear that includes a jacket that feels like a fluffy jumper, boots and a helmet that feel like a child on each foot and one on the head, not to mention dragging the massive hose behind you and carrying a 60lb oxygen canister on your back.

“It’s quite disorientating … It’s very noisy. You can’t breathe…”

Sounds like something Jigsaw would dream up, yeah?

This was a three day training programme designed for marine students. Navy marines are given a break from swabbing decks and are trained to be heroes in three days. As a requirement for their voyages the marines are taught how to enter a fire put out a fire and rescue others, right down to the last detail of how to correctly ascend ladders.

“You show them it, you tell them about it and then you let them do it themselves. That way they’ll have the knowledge of it.”

The programme manager, Alan Currie led jittering boys into an alight building with the purpose of experiencing a real fire for themselves.

“If a young trainee going onto a ship does not have any knowledge of fire fighting and there is a fire on board the ship then you can see how unsafe that could be.”

Here’s another terrifying thought: imagine going through that, already scared to death, wondering what brave Supermen are daring to take on such a heavy burden, such a shocking challenge, and then meeting 20-odd, 20-odd year old, hysterically laughing boys.

To epitomise this horror the childish beings taking on the honourable trial, have drawn an – ahem – “obscene shape” into the ash of a wall in the simulator. A woman’s favourable fantasy of men in yellow hats “cools down”, so to speak, when that’s seen.

Though there’s something to be said for a uniform made up of essentially dull overalls and a duck’s bill on your head. Before the simulation started, though they might deny it, the boys were nervous: jittery legs were shaking, hands were being wrung, bad jokes were being shared, but once they were changed into their gear, the boys turned into men and marched into the fire with some newfound authority and respect.

“They get a grasp of teamwork. They came in probably as twenty individuals from college. Once we put them into their teams, by the end of the third day, they’re starting to work as a team. They’re starting to recognise that whatever their action is, it’ll impinge on the action of somebody else within that team or within the fire.”

Of course when they came out again, they were cheering and posing like boys again.

“I wouldn’t say they’re fire fighters, by any means. They’re not fire fighters after three days”

If joking is how they get through a day – good on them. There’s worse ways of handling training for a career that includes someone’s life in your hands, most are already getting used without that responsibility.

Ultimately, they all passed their training (although failing meant possible death!). It doesn’t matter what motivated them, whether it was their team, an adrenaline rush or a hero complex, they emerged from the smoke of the building in a new light. Watching the simulation provides a renewed sense of respect for not only the students but the marines in general and anyone else willing to put their life on the line for another.

And that was only after a controlled experiment.


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