What does the sight of someone clad in a gas mask, totally hooded, sweating inside a suit made totally for temperate climates remind you of?
I only had one thought when I found myself inside one: Nobody could ever carry out a successful chemical warfare in Singapore - both sides will die from the resulting heat exhaustion. This morning, I peered out at the gas chamber (which was affectionately called the "smoke trainer") from behind the lens, and had the time to think about the horrors of rogue chemicals and biological weapons wrecking havoc onto the world. Those not dead would have to suffer the troubles of a sweat suit.
The previous detail had gone in, and there was a commotion inside the chamber. My detail instructors peered through a gap in the door and turned back to face us, and shrugged his shoulders.
"Now, you just remember not to panic when you go in," he admonished. Apparently, some earlier details had not taken the advice to their heads.
We eventually entered in single files. The room was brightly lit, and a white mist hung in the air. I entered reluctantly, not wanting to leave the comfort of the cool post-downpour weather outside.
"Let's do some stretching exercises for starters..."
After one small set of jumping jacks in the stuffy suit, we were asked to change the filter canisters on our masks. One by one, with eyes screwed tight, and our breaths held for dear life, we turned the canisters out of the mask, and screwed it back on again. The necessary drills done, we were about to have fun.
We lined up in two rows, and one by one, we took off our gas masks, looked straight into the instructor's eyes, and shouted our NRIC number, rank, name, and our home addresses, before we left the room.
Being the last in the row, I could see the effect of tear gas on my friends: Some coughed, and barely managed to control it. They even had trouble saying their own names without a pause to catch their breaths inside the gas filled room. When they got to leave the room, it was hard for them to not run ("Or else you will go for another round," another officer warned before we entered).
Finally my turn came. I ripped off the hood, and nervously fiddled with the straps of the mask. I took one last deep breath before pulling the mask free from my face. The effect was apparent. As I spoke, my eyes were starting to tear, and my face felt like it was pierced with thousands of needles. It was tough to keep my hands from rubbing my face.
Once I finished, I stumbled outside into the welcoming breeze of the outside weather. My sergeant helped me pull off my gloves, so that I could go to the shower to clean my face. However, the water did little to stop the maddening burning sensation. The sergeant took the liberty to take a photograph of me when I looked my worst. The platoon sergeant joined in, this time taking a group photograph of my detail. We looked like we had just survived a World War.
When I was finally free from the effects of the tear gas, I managed to walk back to the holding area, where I found out what happened to the previous detail: My buddy panicked when he was supposed to take off his mask, and struggled to dash out of the room. His shouting only managed to introduce more gas into his lungs, and he collapsed outside the gas chamber...
I teased him on the bus back to camp about how people reap what they sow (he stole my bread right from under my nose the previous night). What an amazing day.
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- ► 2005 (74)