No Such Thing As A Free Lunch?

freelunchthumb.jpgThere is, apparently, no such thing as a free lunch. Really? We'll have to see about that, won't we?

I was browsing Gumtree the other day - it's an online classified ads site - and I came across an ad in the 'freebies' section for a 'free lunch'. Sounds good to me, I thought...


So, What's The Catch?

Does there always have to be one?

OK, yes. It's not really a completely free lunch, It's the Hampshire Fire & Rescue Service - looking for 100 volunteers to take part in a mass decontamination exercise - so before I get my hands on the pork pies and quiche, I have to pretend I've been drenched with toxic waste, and let them hose me down, or something.

I'm In!

Sounds like fun! I've signed up and will be updating this page with photos and details of the event, which is scheduled for July 21, 2008...

On The Day

I arrived as instructed at about 09:45 at the cricket ground in front of St James' Hospital, Portsmouth - after signing in, I was given a plain manilla envelope containing a letter telling me that the exercise would involve roleplaying - we were to imagine ourselves to be operatives in a busy hospital mail room and were to report to a building (the one we were already in, as it happened) on the cricket ground at 10:00.

The Briefing

At the briefing, we were told about a threatening email that had arrived from an individual calling himself 'Dr Chaos' - who claimed to have sent letters to our department infected with anthrax - the letters had been delivered in plain manilla envelopes (clever, eh?).

Then the Fire Chief took over, outlining the procedure for decontamination - in a real life scenario, this would involve stripping off completely, donning special clothing, being washed, then dressed in clean clothing - as it was an exercise, we were allowed to strip down only to swimwear.

The Procedure

freelunch2.jpgWe lined up to receive a sealed pack each - this contained bright orange suits and some other stuff - here's the instruction leaflet that was in the pack:

Then we lined up in rows of six (three males on the right and three females on the left) in front of the decontamination tent - unfortunately, I don't have a photo of us all in our bright orange suits, as my camera was sealed away in a plastic bag at this point...

freelunch3.jpgWe were ushered into the decontamination tent in our threes at timed intervals by firefighters in full isolation suits.

The tent consisted of three sections - in the first one, we stripped out of our orange suits and pushed them under a curtain into the central area - they were collected for incineration. Then at the next timed interval, we moved into the middle section, which was a warm shower with mild soap mixed in with the water.

At the next timed interval, we moved into the final section of the tent, where sealed packs containing disposable towel, green paper suits and plastic leggings and jacket were issued - and we passed out of the tent back to the start.

Poor Turnout

Quite a few people who had registered as volunteers for the event simply didn't turn up - so in order to make up the volume for the exercise, many of us agreed to go around twice. This gave me quite an appetite for the...

Free Lunch!

freelunch4.jpgAnd here it is! - well, here's one half of it - the other, identical half could not be photographed as it was obscured by hungry volunteers.

It was a nice buffet consisting of interesting sandwiches, rolls, savouries, cakes and fruit.

We actually all worked pretty hard for this, so in that sense it doesn't really qualify as a free lunch, however, the whole experience was quite educational and interesting, so I feel like I got at least as much out of it as I put in. It also feels pretty good to have taken part in something worthwhile like this, so I think that brings it back above the break-even line.

Yes, But The Point Is

It's more than just reassuring to know that, in the event of catastrophe, there are professionals - not just trained in theory - but trained in practice, standing by to pick up the pieces.