Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Gas Masks

In the Army, soldiers learn how to don the gas masks – and quickly. We were drilled, drilled some more, and drilled again. Ideally, we could whip out the mask (which was in its pouch by our legs), don that sucker, and have it properly situated in super-rapid fashion. If we did this, we wouldn’t have to inhale until the mask was secured. That would, we hoped, give us an excellent chance of surviving whatever threat we were trying to escape. (In Basic? CS gas. Basically, it’s military-grade tear gas that won’t kill you, but will make every facial orifice miserable for a while afterward.)

If you’re going to buy a milsurp (military surplus) gas mask, you’re going to have to keep it with you for it to do you any good. If you’re at the office when a chemical threat hits, what good is the mask if it’s in your bunker at home? None whatsoever. The mask isn’t necessarily useful if you leave it in your vehicle while you’re at the office, either. The odds are good that, if you don’t keep the mask on your person, it’s not going to help – you’ll be too far away from that sucker, and waste too many precious seconds getting to the thing.

You’re also going to need to be able to whip out that mask and get it in place before you breathe in whatever’s threatening to kill you, or turn you inside out, or whatever. When the Drill Sergeant’s CS-gas grenade hit the ground, we stopped breathing. From that second on, we were donning our masks and holding our breaths. Even though the CS gas wasn’t all that bad, it was still a tense, stressful moment. Inhaling meant taking in the gas, which was what we were trying to prevent. How long can you hold your breath while you break out the mask, don it, clear it, et cetera? If you can’t do it well, and fast, the mask is useless – even if you do carry it everywhere you go.

I don’t own a gas mask. I live in the middle of nowhere, so this isn’t very high on my list of priorities. The odds of facing the sort of threat that requires one of these just aren’t high where I’m situated. If I’m wrong, that’s entirely my own fault. I can’t carry every piece of gear that could possibly be useful. Like everyone else, I pick and choose. Many of us choose not to have gas masks. But some do, and you’re the ones I’m addressing here.

Practice with your gear. Practice regularly. Know how the gear works, too. Do you know how to clear the mask? Can you see well enough to navigate the stairwell, which is packed with panicked people, with the mask on? (Believe me, your field of vision changes when you're wearing one.) Can you figure out whether or not the filter is doing its job? Are you absolutely certain that you have a good seal around your face? Are you able to get the mask on quickly enough in the first place?

Know what you’re doing. Otherwise, you’re just wasting money and time. If you have a milsurp mask, try to get your hands on the related manual/set of instructions/whatever the U.S. military published for its troops about the thing. It’s floating around somewhere, probably as a PDF file on someone’s Web site. This will give you thorough instructions, which will be extremely useful when you practice. Just remember that reading about doing something is not the same as actually doing it.


  1. I just got in a bunch of these last month. Much better than most of the surplus you see out there these days. Lemme know if you think that perhaps one fits your needs after all...I've got a half dozen extra to find homes for.

  2. Do you think that these will provide some protection until a proper gas mask can be retrieved? They're alot less likely to attract attention kept at your desk if you work in an office type environment.

  3. Catman: I think that just about any gas mask can be made less conspicuous. Putting the mask in a civilian messenger-type bag, for example, reduces the curious look of the thing.

    Now...the mask does have to go everywhere with the owner. Have a meeting with somebody on another floor? Oh, yeah, the mask needs to go. I'm a woman, so hauling the obligatory bag o' crap looks normal. But what of the men? Even in today's society, a man bag still looks weird in certain environments.

    One could, if given strange looks, feign an embarrassed look and whisper that the bag contains a medical device. Decent people usually drop the subject at that point. Anybody who asks questions can be brushed off easily enough, I think.


“All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”
-George OrwellAnimal Farm