How to get yourself shot (and how not to)

After lunch: sniper fire. Anna Blundy joins a self-preservation course for war correspondents
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THE BBC's Moscow correspondent is running around the copse hysterical with pain and fear. His shoulder is badly wounded and the condition of his colleagues is worse. His producer lies unconscious against a tree, apparently with a severe head wound. A cameraman has a large piece of metal protruding from his hand and their Serbian driver, who had been leading the expedition, is screaming incoherently some distance away. He cannot move.

The ITN group that discovers them rushes to their aid, only to be thrown to the forest floor by a sudden burst of explosions and sniper fire. They are in a minefield. The second crew is eventually responsible for the death of the BBC producer through rough handling and bad bandaging. After much callous deliberation they decide to save the Serb, and they manage to treat him and help him out of danger without being wounded or killed themselves.

Andy Sumpner, who runs the first aid course for journalists that the participants from the BBC, ITN and ABC News are on, gives them a decent six out of 10.

The four-day course was set up by the Ministry of Defence for the BBC in 1992 and is contracted out to Sumpner's AST First Aid Services at £300 per journalist. For three years journalists from the British and American television networks have been coming to Farnborough to learn how to treat severely wounded colleagues and how to avoid becoming casualties themselves.

On day one, 10 male and four female journalists sit obediently in a classroom, notebooks in hand. Among them are a Reuters correspondent who lives in Zagreb, the BBC's Moscow correspondent, an ABC News cameraman who covered Chechnya and a veteran war correspondent from BBC Radio.

Andy Sumpner, is a born showman and teacher. He is an experienced ex- Army medic and a man who takes first aid seriously - he has his blood group tattooed on to his wrist. He warns immediately that day four is stressful and that two separate ITN employees have physically abused him during it. The ITN crew present look sheepish.

Sumpner then shows a film called Watch Your Back Abroad in which journalists known to most of the group are killed and injured. The film is presented by Martyn Lewis. "Has he ever been outside a studio?" a BBC producer whispers naughtily.

Sumpner enjoys shocking screaming hacks with lurid jokes and hideous re-enactments of people severing their hands or getting shards of glass in their eyes. He tells us how medics in Vietnam used to safety-pin the tongues of unconscious casualties to their cheeks so they wouldn't choke on them. "Don't be tactless," he says. "I once saw someone treating a soldier whose legs had been blown off. `Have I lost my legs?' the soldier asked the medic. `No they're over there, look,' he replied."

The hacks listened attentively, mentally applying the information to situations they have been in. The BBC's Colin Blane tells of his escape with one dead and one injured colleague from an explosion in Addis Ababa in an ancient Mercedes requisitioned by the crew. "The ambulance service in this country promises to come within 14 minutes," says Sumpner. "How long have you lot been away from medical help?" The group shuffles collectively in its seats. "Days," they admit.

"You need to be more careful than the military. You are carrying heavy equipment and you can't return fire. It's going to be useless hurling your notebooks at a sniper." Quips like "Do we still try to save them if it's a rival network?" abound, but throughout the course, images of dead friends and colleagues come to us with a nagging "if". If someone had known what to do, if they had worn their flak jacket ...

Sumpner goes on to demonstrate the treatment of all serious wounds, and distinguished journalists squat giggling on the floor, resuscitating rubber dolls, checking each other's pulses, feigning unconsciousness and squealing at their inability to get it right. "It's just by his Adam's apple, idiot," someone shouts at the BBC's Angus Roxburgh, who has already built himself a reputation for first aid incompetence.

The instructor explains that high-velocity rounds penetrate car doors and brick walls, but that it is worth hiding anyway so the sniper can't see you. He explains how to get out of a minefield, but adds that if you are also being sniped at you might as well make a run for it. He reminds us that 28 journalists were killed in 12 months in Yugoslavia, and everyone looks down in horror.

"Well, that's enough for this morning," he says chirpily. "To take us up to lunch we're going to look at what happens to someone as they die."

When Sumpner is feeling generous he takes us outside to sit cross-legged on the grass while he tells us about serious head injuries that bleed from the ears and people with punctured lungs who cough up frothy blood. Angus Roxburgh accidentally breaks the neck of his imaginary patient while trying to clear its airway and everyone winces rather than laughing - disbelief is suspended. "Remind me never to go on assignment with you," mutters Philip, the BBC producer.

Sumpner's teaching partner, Dave, is an ex-Paratrooper. Dave is very hard indeed and teaches nine hours of first aid despite a broken back. He shows the group how to do most kinds of bandaging and we spend a day wrapping each other up like mummies.

He tells us to keep turning unconscious people "like a sausage under a grill", and points out that "dry land drowning" is a horrible way to go - "Ask a Kurd".

By day three we are on bullet wounds to the chest and a cameraman is lying on the classroom floor stripped to the waist. Sumpner draws a cross under his arm where a bullet would slip past a flak jacket if the arm were raised to support a camera. We all imagine it. The wound on Andrei's hairy chest is dressed, and happily the pain at the dressing's removal was the most anyone suffered on the course. The BBC's Fergal Keane broke his leg when he came here.

On the last day our injuries were inflicted with stage make-up. Liz, a BBC documentary producer, had some very convincing intestines pouring from her stomach. Everyone was shouting and screaming for maximum verisimilitude and the hostile fire seemed all too real.

At the end of the course the shabby hacks in old corduroy trousers and macram bracelets were reunited with their mobile phones and they shambled past the rigid armed guards of the Army Medical School for the last time. Tired and definitely wiser than when they arrived, many wished they had known before what they know now.

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