IT'S GETTING HOT IN HERE

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01 Oct 2017 | OPS & TRAINING

IT'S GETTING HOT IN HERE

Can journalist Benita Teo survive the heat at the Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Explosives (CBRE) familiarisation training in 39th Battalion, Singapore Combat Engineers (39 SCE)?

Photos // Roy Lim

Doing side stretches inside the smoke training facility.
Melayu 华文
English 华文

They say that guys shouldn't make girls cry. Clearly that's not the case for me.

Thanks to the incessant egging-on from some of my friends, I was goaded into seeing if I could try out the infamous "tear gas training". The one where they had to remove their gas masks inside a smoke training facility and ugly-cry through a recitation of their rank, full name and IC number.

But no pretending to be in a Taylor Swift music video for me. Instead, I got to go through the CBRE familiarisation training.

All combat-fit Full-time National Servicemen must undergo this training, which helps them to build confidence in operating in a chemical-contaminated environment.

Suit up

The Individual Protection Equipment (IPE) suit offers Mission-Oriented Protective Posture (MOPP) Level 4 protection against chemical, biological, radiological (CBR) and nuclear threats.

The suit provides protection of up to eight hours for liquid contaminants and 24 hours for vapour contaminants.

The suit may be basic, but trying to put it on is anything but. For a first-timer, the number of pieces and the order that they had to be put on was mind-boggling.

Can you hear me?

My first task was to do a short route march to get used to moving around in the IPE suit. CBR Defence (CBRD) Engineers have to don the suit, together with their rifle, for their Vocational Obstacle Course. This entails a 2.5km route march, clearing some Standard Obstacle Course obstacles and performing survival drills in a tear gas environment.

As this was my first time, I could only wear the suit for a maximum of 30 minutes to prevent heat exhaustion. Hence, I just did a 500m trail carrying nothing but my lumbering self.

Surprisingly, even though the suit added significant weight to my frame, it was relatively easy to move in. The heat was manageable and I wasn't sweating buckets like I'd expected.

The tough part was learning to breathe and speak with the gas mask on, since airflow was restricted. The thick hood over my head also impaired my hearing. Whenever I tried to speak, what felt like a shout across the room came out as a whisper.

But what amazed me was my photographer and cameraman's ability to still understand me.

One soft whimper, and they would move in attentively with a reply.

This type of chemistry is important among CBRD Engineers, I'm told. Because verbal communication is hindered, they build up such strong rapport that a simple look or hand gesture can let them know what their buddies need.

Moment of truth

After completing the route march, it was time to enter the CS gas or tear gas-filled smoke training facility.

Scenes of hazmat-suited CSI officers walking into green fumes in Hollywood movies filled my mind. I can only imagine what it's like in a real CBR environment, where the suit could be our soldiers' only protection.

The doors of the facility opened and…nothing. No green fumes, it wasn't even Satay Club on a Saturday night. Although CS smoke pellets had been burnt barely an hour earlier, the chamber looked completely clear.

I was then led to do some basic exercises like side stretches, squats and jumping jacks. Although I was moving around vigorously, I didn't feel the sting of the CS gas on my skin or eyes and nose. Despite being made up of many separate pieces, the suit provided sufficient protection.

Within a minute, I was out of there. As we helped each other pat off the residual particles, I felt a slight sting round my eyes, but nothing worse than getting perspiration there. The irritation also went away pretty quickly.

After going through this training, I realised how important teamwork and communication were to the CBRD Engineers. Being in the IPE suit felt very isolating when I couldn't hear or be heard properly.

But having people who could understand me and reach out before a word was said helped ease the nerves. In a real CBR disaster, these may be the things that keep our soldiers going.

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