Each week, at least a dozen sailors - from able seamen fresh from training to experienced chiefs - pass through the First Aid Training Unit, or FATU, to improve their medical skills.
Every sailor and marine is taught the basics of first aid. One in three must undergo the week-long more advanced course and one in ten the even-more-thorough instruction.
In the week-long advanced course, the first three days are spent learning the theory and day four is the ‘bloody practice’ - first in the replica ship and then outside, where a Wessex helicopter has crashed on a main road and two cars, a Metro and an Astra, have crashed into the back of it.
In addition to the mock-ups, there’s fake blood by the bucketful, and replica wounds such as a lacerated chest and exposed intestines:
It is a false environment, but, turn the lights off, put the smoke generators on, the noise, the cries, it puts you into that world,” explains Petty Officer (Medical Assistant) Craig Hainey, First Aid Training Officer.
And so the 17 students treat the exercise as if it were real. After recovering the casualties from the disaster area, they lay them out and tend to them, making observations every few minutes ready for the professionals to take over:
It’s quite an intense morning,” said Able Seaman Barry McWilliams, a reservist with HMS Hibernia. “I’m more mechanically-minded. I’d really rather see an engine gushing away than a body. You are shown some pretty visceral images during the course.
The skills taught are incredibly useful. Rather than standing there and watching in panic, you can help out and get stuck in.
For 19-year-old Lynsey from Bracknell, about to join her first ship, HMS Montrose, the training was a bit of a shock to the system. She said:
During basic training you’re told that you’ll learn first aid, but I didn’t expect anything like this - just minor injuries. You tell yourself ‘this won’t happen to me’. But then you realise I have to deal with it.
The course is really interesting and actually quite enjoyable, but the exercise is disorienting and nerve-wracking - apart from the odd visit, I’ve never really been on a ship before.
Which is why the facility, says PO Hainey, is FATU’s ‘party piece’:
It’s heavily used - and incredibly useful,” he said. “The magic or golden hour is crucial for survival, the first ten minutes - ‘the platinum ten’ as we call them - especially. They really make the difference.
The important thing is giving the right treatment at the right time. If the person standing next to you is first-aid-trained, your chances of survival are so much greater.
See November’s edition of Navy News for an extended feature on first aid training.