Tasers, razors, hands and gas: Pros sample the business ends of their tools
When you're in a line of work in which you perform a service or job duty that is so unique you might otherwise not know how it feels to be on the receiving end, there's only one way to put yourself in the shoes of the other guy: test it on yourself.
Depending on your job, being a professional Guinea pig for career training can be pleasant or painful, healing or hellacious. But a cop must know how it feels to be "tased," and an Army infantryman needs to know the effects of tear gas. A barber, even if she's a woman, should know what a straight razor shave feels like, and a chiropractor ought to know what it feels like to have his own spine adjusted.
Pete Pfau is a training officer with the Milwaukee Police Department, and he's put himself on the business end of a Taser several times. It's like no other experience, he says.
"Your muscles lock up. You can breathe, but you don't have control of your body," says Pfau, who works with MPD cadets. "There have been times when I've felt pain, but other times the pain is not that great."
Pfau says most of the officers on whom he deploys the Taser say they couldn't fight through the sensation, but knowing what it feels like, the training helps them make a better decision on when to apply the weapon on a suspect.
"It adds a lot of credibility to that officer. A lot of people think this is a torturous device ... but for the officer to actually feel what this feels like, I think they have a better appreciation when they do deploy this on an individual."
Pfau says that to become an officer, MPD cadets go through 16 hours of Taser training, even though international guidelines recommend only six hours. The five-second Taser deployment is voluntary, but Pfau estimates that 85 to 90 percent of the officers have elected to be subjected to it.
Cadets also take a full shot of pepper spray, then must neutralize a padded suspect, fire a gun and hit a target, then call in the incident on a police radio.
All of this sounds just about as pleasant as what infantry soldiers are subjected to in Army basic training.
In 2001, an 18-year-old Casey Buchanan was tear gassed while training for deployment with the 101st Airborne Division in Iraq. At Fort Benning, he experienced the sensation of CS gas twice; the first time after was about four months of training.
"On top of the sensation, it's a good way to make sure your gas masks work," says Buchanan, now an editorial intern at OnMilwaukee.com. "It feels like your face is on fire. It's not as strong as pepper spray, but it burns your lungs and your face and your sinuses. It's a good way to clean out your sinuses, actually."
Buchanan says the soldiers are placed in a brick room without any windows. Once everyone is wearing their masks, they ignite the gas in a metal canister. At that time, the cadets remove their masks. "It doesn't quite hit you when you breathe it in, but when you exhale, it feels like really, really hot chili sauce, but in your face and in your lungs. They make you hold your hands outward and not rub your eyes – it just makes it worse."
Buchanan says the experience prepared him for combat, and it's one he'll remember for the rest of his life. "I handled it better than a lot of people. Some people choke and fall down, and the drill sergeants just grab them by the collar and throw them out."
Being a Guinea pig doesn't have to be unpleasant, though. Sometimes it can be beneficial and even preventative in nature.
Dr. Steven Scheuing has been a chiropractor for 12 years, and during chiropractic school, he routinely trained on, and was worked on, by other students. "We started on each other then worked on members of the community," says Scheuing, who now practices out of South Shore Family Chiropractic in South Milwaukee.
Scheuing says he's asked often if he was scared to have students adjusting his spine, but he wasn't. "You start off with just feeling the spine, and we had all our anatomy and physiology courses done."
In fact, Scheuing still practices what he preaches, and receives regular adjustments from his colleagues at the office. "It keeps my spine tuned up, and I can gauge what my patients' reactions are to things and I can correlate that with what mine are. I've learned not to put too much of what I think into the process, though; we always make people comfortable and accommodate the adjustments to them."
Sometimes, being a test subject can be just plain fun.
Take Jess Stern, the owner of Stag Barbershop in Bay View. After years of giving her male clients straight razor shaves, she thought it was time to see how the steel blade felt on her own, already smooth face.
"We went through all the motions, and I just wanted to know what it felt like," says Stern, who has been cutting hair and shaving faces for a decade. "I loved it. I wouldn't do it again, because I don't want to grow facial hair. It was better than I expected. I thought it would hurt a little bit, but it didn't."
"I will say this, though," adds Stern. "I don't know how you guys use that aftershave. I knew it stings, but I had never experienced it."
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