Antarctic Fire Department

Hey y’all –

Hope everyone at home is doing well.  Things have been exciting over the past week.  On Wednesday and Thursday this week, the FD had a few fire drills and I was lucky to be able to go out and take pictures during the first one.

Personally, I don’t know how these guys do it.  It takes a lot to be a fire fighter in “the real world” and down here things are completely different.  Sure we don’t have a lot of hazards that are in other areas, but we do have our own special things to consider.  Number one, it is incredibly windy here so fires could spread quickly.  Number two, it is incredibly dry here, so putting out fires is a challenge.  Also, when it comes to victim recovery, they have to be careful that they don’t do anything to worsen the condition of the victim (i.e. leaving them exposed to the outside elements).  Overall, things here are a challenge.  But our guys are up to the task.

I’m thankful that we haven’t had any actual fires yet, but here are some pictures from the drill that we had on 09/28/11.

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Goodbye Moon

Good morning!

The days are much longer now.  The sky is light when I head to work in the mornings around 0620.  My dorm room has no windows, so it’s always a surprise when I walk out to see a light blue/gray sky.  We’ve been fortunate lately, the weather has been spectactular over the past two days.  Sunday when I went to work, there was very little wind and the snow looked pristine as it blanketed everything.  The weather on Saturday ensured a fresh covering a snow, thanks to high winds.  When we first arrived, the sky was still dark when I went to work.  The new dawn colors invigorate me but I’ll miss the dark skys of early Winfly, the alpenglow, the nacreous clouds and stars.

Monday was my first day off in my set of off days.  I went to breakfast with my roommate and then went back to sleep.  Ah sleep.  It’s so easy when there are no windows in the room.  The beds aren’t too bad, no worse than the Georgia Public Safety Training Center, and since we don’t have extra roommates now, I have taken one of the spare pillows for my own use.  I’m going to have to find a replacement soon.  The next flights start coming in on October 3rd and I’ll be forced to hand over my reappropriated goods.  I have a spare fleece with me that I’ll more than likely fold up and stuff in a pillowcase.  That should work.

After my nap, I joined the masses for lunch.  While at lunch, Kate and I decided to tackle Ob Hill, which I wrote about in the previous post.

After the Ob Hill attempt and blog, I cleaned up and headed to dinner.  I joined Kate, Brook and the dentist, Kressley.  Kressley is from Australia and takes some positively amazing photos.  After dinner, we sat around discussing what the possibilities of seeing auroras tonight was.  Kressley is on an email notification list and recieved a notification about Monday night being a good time to see auroras between 0100 and 0300.  We decided if the skies were clear, we were going to hike up behind the VMF and attempt to look for them.   We found some other people who were interested in skygazing and made plans to meet in my building at 0100 if things looked good.

I headed over to the firehouse for my second chess lesson with Rick at 2000.  After the game (which I lost but was assured that I did much better), he mentioned that he would play another round but needed to go to bed.  I told him that I had to go to bed as well, because I was going to be getting up at 1230 to go look for auroras.  He seemed interested in that statement and asked if I was also going out on Tuesday night.  I didn’t/don’t know if I’ll be going out Tuesday night, but I told him that I thought it would be an excellent idea if he was able to do some night time area familiarization.  Granted we only have a few weeks of darkness left, but, still it was a brilliant idea.  He told me he would let me know after he spoke to one of his lieutenants.  I also asked Genievive, the night time dispatcher, if she would page me if she heard anything from the Lt.  Shortly after walking into my dormroom, I got a page from G saying that the Lt agreed to it.  Then I got a page from Rick, informing me to be at the firehouse at 0130.

After a few hours of tossing and turning, I woke, dressed and headed to the firehouse.  I was a bit dismayed about not seeing any stars, but being out in the dark was still great.  The weather wasn’t too bad, I believe it was only -35.  It’s funny to write that.  I love you Antarctica. 

Shortly after arriving at the firehouse and talking with G a while, Rick joined us and we waited for Alan.  And waited. And waited.  Rick knocked on Alan’s door but recieved no answer.  We decided to give Alan 15 more minutes.  Then G sent him a page and Alan showed up shortly after.  The guys quickly threw on their gear, and we hopped into the ambulance and headed out to look for auroras, I mean, to do some night time area familiarization.

After having not ridden in a vehicle for several weeks, riding in one, especially seated backwards, is an odd sensation.  I rode in the back of the ambulance, which is different than the ones at GCFD.  I mostly kept turned to look forward through the windshield, hoping that the skies would magically clear and we would see some awe-inspiring sites.  We parked near the base of the same hill that I attempted to hike earlier that day.  Rick assisted me out of the back of the ambulance and the three of us stood there, at the base of Ob Hill, each silently hoping that the southern lights would grace us with their appearance.  Unfortunately, the cloud cover remained and the only thing we saw were a few loaders or dozers or whatever the term for the big catepillar tractors that clear or grate the roadways is.  We gave up after a few minutes, loaded up and headed back to the firehouse. 

When we arrived back “home” (it’s hard not to think of that place as home), I thanked both of them and wished them pleasant dreams.  I told Rick that despite the fact that we didn’t see the auroras tonight, it was still great to get outside when the skies were dark. 

Perhaps tomorrow night.  I only have a few more chances to see the elusive auroras this season and if I don’t go out and try to look for them, I definitely won’t see them at all.

Ob Hill…. attempt #1

Greetings dear readers!

Today is Monday, September….26?  I think…  I had a pretty eventful weekend and work and took on the “crap magnet” status.  Within 24 hours, I sent B shift on 4 calls.  It was great!  I have also been dubbed the smoke and spill queen because I seem to get a fair amount of calls regarding inactive spills.  *Fun factoid – if something is spilled, glycol, fuel, etc, we have to call out the spill team.  It does’ t matter if it is a drop or if it is a gallon.  Sometimes this is annoying and frustrating, but we do what we can to protect the environment.

Unfortunately the weather was very nasty on Saturday, -81 degrees with the windchill, and one of my FF’s got slightly frostbitten on his ears.  He’s recovering though.  Frostbite is a very nasty thing and seeing it first hand was a bit eye opening.  A few weeks ago, two people went out jogging and got frostbitten as well.  Don’t worry Mom!  I’m wearing layers, just ignore the fact that I have ice on my face in my Ob Hill pictures.  I wasn’t in any danger, I had taken off my hat to try to defrost my glasses and the sweat froze to all of the little hairs on my forehead.  It is amazing to discover how much hair you have on your face when icicles form on it.  I can’t imagine having a beard down here.  I’ve had my hair freeze a few times when walking to work if I didn’t get my hair all the way dry, but it melts fairly quickly.  Luckily, I haven’t had it freeze solid and snap off.  Yes. It happens.

Today I went with one of our fire-fighters to hike to the top of Ob Hill.  I’ve been getting in better shape down here, I’ve lost weight but I’m still WAY out of shape and need to lose, oh, a lot more.  And taking on this hike with someone who is probably 130 lbs of pure muscle and a former marine, yeah…  Not my most brilliant move, but she was also very patient and understanding.  For that I was thankful.

Just the walk to get to the base of Ob Hill was challenging.  Walking uphill, in the snow (I LOVE ANTARCTICA!) to the base of a rock/ice/snow covered mountain about an hour after eating lunch made me queasy.  This impromptu hike made me realize that planning, might not be a bad thing.  So Kate and I started up Ob Hill.  We were heading up and I kept saying “I’m not gonna make it!” and she kept saying “It’s not that much further!” so I huffed and puffed and kept walking.  Turning around and walking backwards so the wind wasn’t slapping me in the face was the only way I made it as far as I did.

The view was amazing.  I FINALLY got to see Mt. Erebus, our nearest active volcano.  Yes there are volcanos in Antarctica.  Yes we live fairly close to it.  And there was smoke coming out of it.  But, there is generally smoke coming out of it.  There are also times when fireballs can be seen as well.  I will be going back up to see that.  But first, I need to hit the gym.

Enjoy the pictures!


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Work, fun, and more pictures!

I find it amusing to read posts on Facebook about the weather being cold at home.  Today the low was -58 with winds gusting at 30+ knots.  Makes for a bit of a chilly day.  I find that I am growing accustomed to it.  Today when I went outside, I was in jeans, boots, long-sleeve shirt and jacket.  A few weeks ago when it was the same temperature, I had to wear 2 sets of long-johns under my jeans and a long-john shirt under my regular shirt, along with a sweater, gloves, jacket and hat.  It’s amazing how the human body can adapt to adverse weather conditions.  Last night, one of the FD captains was walking around in shorts, long-sleeve shirt and sandals.  Really?  Sandals?  To me, that was a bit extreme.

The past several days have gone by rather quickly.  At work, we’ve had some interesting situations (of course none of them occur when I’m on duty).  The EOC had to be activated and then there was a situation at the hazardous waste building.  No one was hurt at the latter incident, but the first incident made for our first actual medical call since we’ve been down here.  So back to my previous paragraph, the human body adapts to colder temps HOWEVER it is important to still use common sense.  I was outside less than 20 feet away from a building in warmer wear clothing, not miles from shelter.  I shall digress.

At work we’ve been getting new furniture.  Having been in this field for a while, I know how beat up dispatch furniture can get.  Listening to my supervisor talk about the trials and tribulations of getting new furniture makes my heart go out to her.  I know what it is like to want to improve the work place environment.  There are so many things to consider down here though.  Number one, we’re working with a very limited budget.  Number two, we’re working with very limited space.  Number three, we have certain pieces of equipment that can’t be updated at this time due to costs and such.  Number four, the dry and cold of this place make it difficult to get just any sort of furniture.  The ordering of the furniture occurred way before my time.  The room was spec’d out and there was 1/8th of an inch of “wiggle room” for the new stuff.  Once it was discovered that the new furniture was here, it was brought to the fire house and all of the snow was removed from it.  Yes, the snow was on the furniture due to basically poor shipping from the company.  That was strike one.  THEN it was discovered that the furniture they shipped to us was the incorrect furniture.  The stuff they shipped was stuff they had previously told my supervisor wouldn’t work down here.  It’s not wood, it’s not particle board.  The furniture is made of compressed paper.  It looks nice but Lori fears that it won’t hold up for more than 5 years.

Other than work, I’ve hiked down to Hut Point again with my friend Autumn.  She was in the original room I was placed in.  She works in housing.  Super sweet girl.  We saw 6 seals and actually watched one of them work it’s way through a hole in the ice to join its buddies.  Someone asked me how seals moved around since their flippers are so small.  Well now I can answer that question.  Picture a several hundred pound inch worm.  Imagine it inching its way forward about 5 feet and then rolling in the direction it wants to “turn” then it goes back to inching its way forward again.  We watched this seal flop and roll around until she (I’m assuming it is a she) got into the perfect position to catch some rays and hang out with the girls.  The reason I think the other ones were girls is because we saw the stomach of one of them moving and babies are due within the next month!  Hooray!  Needless to say, I’m going to be on baby seal watch (I wasn’t there for all of my US friends having babies, I’m gonna be there for the birth of one of the natives’ babes).

Also, I’m including pictures of the sundog.  If you don’t know what it is, it’s… (from wikipedia)

A sun dog or sundog (scientific name parhelion, plural parhelia, from Greek parēlion (παρήλιον) from παρά (beside) + ἥλιος (sun), “beside the sun”; also called a mock sun[citation needed] or a phantom sun[citation needed]) is an atmospheric phenomenon that creates bright spots of light in the sky, often on a luminous ring or halo on either side of the sun.[1]

Sundogs may appear as a colored patch of light to the left or right of the sun, 22° distant and at the same distance above the horizon as the sun, and in ice halos. They can be seen anywhere in the world during any season, but they are not always obvious or bright. Sundogs are best seen and are most conspicuous when the sun is low.

So, things are going well overall.  I still love it here.  Enjoy the pictures!

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Antarctica Sports

Sorry I haven’t posted an update in a while.  My work days have been intensely busy as well as my day off (so far).

So last night was the first dodgeball match of the season.  There were 5 or 6 teams competing and several of my guys (the firefighters I work with) were playing. 

I took my place up on the small landing area to take pictures and watched the match begin.  Since a picture is worth a thousand words, I’ll just include a slideshow.  Dodgeball matches are exciting but I’m no sports commentator.

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The winners of the match were the DAs but one of my FFs was on the team and basically won the games for them.  The rest of the teams were good, but this guy belongs in the Dodgeball Hall of Fame…if one even exists.

Visiting the neighbors at Scott Base

Today is Friday, August 16, 2011 at approximately 0950 in the morning.

After two long days at work, I’m off again.  I love my schedule.  Let’s see what has been going on…

Work – nothing much.  Lots of vehicles checking out and going to do work on the Ice Pier.  Haven’t dispatched any calls but night shift has had to deal with several power outages.

Yesterday when walking to work, I thought I heard wind chimes.  I started looking around in an attempt to figure out where the noise was coming from.  My face was stung by ice crystals and that is when I realized that the tinkling sound I was hearing was coming from ice crystals hitting my jacket.  Nice.

So after I got to work yesterday I remembered that I was scheduled to go tour Scott Base with the FD.  SWEET!  Scott Base is the Kiwi base about 3 kilometers away from us.  All of the buildings are a bright lime green.  “A” shift and I loaded up in the van and one of the other vehicles and took off to visit our neighbors.  When we arrived, I was surprised at how small the base was.  Due to the poor visibility from the van (my window was iced over) I couldn’t see the sign that stated the population was only 13.

When we entered the base, we met up with Molly, the winter fire chief for Scott Base.  Molly is his nickname.  He said there was a long story to go along with it and after 3 seasons he was still stuck with it.  I didn’t ask anything further.  I am hoping for an explanation on an American Night *more on American Nights in a bit.

Scott Base has one main building connected by indoor walkways.  Their fire alarm system is superior to ours.  There are several outlying buildings but they aren’t often used until it is full blown summer, at least from what I understand.  The main purpose of our tour was to become familiar with the hydrant locations and their style of firefighting.  Their fire department consists of basically the entire center.  No one is an actual certified firefighter, they all go through a week of training before coming down.

After our tour, we were treated to coffee, tea and snacks.  I had tea and biscuits.  Completely amazing.  Everyone there treats each other like family.  I want to move in.  Molly and I had a long talk about the Americans he has met.  He likes the people he has met from McMurdo.  I smiled.  I’m a McMurdo person.  I felt accepted.

After coming back “home” work continued to drag on.  Vehicles checked out.  I answered them.  Then the firefighters resumed their dispatch training and I got to train them on the use of run sheets/ medievac sheets/ efoot plan sheets/ noise complaints/ etc.  Then the firefighters started acting goofy out in the bay.  Thankfully I had my camera with me and was able to catch some of their antics on film, albeit digital film.

Since it was so cold outside, we decided to take a cup of hot water and toss it in the air to see if it would crystalize and evaporate.  My pictures of the attempt didn’t turn out so great.  So, logically, we decided to turn to a darker liquid to see if it would work the same and yes, coffee, when thrown in the air in -35 degree (or colder) weather, will crystalize and evaporate.  Awesomeness.  I have learned something new every day.

I’m really rambling in this post.  I think it has to do with the fact that it was really cold out last night and I experienced an “ice cream headache” without eating any ice-cream.  Talk about a weird feeling…

Ok, so after work, Renae and I caught the shuttle to Scott Base for American Night.  On American Night, we visitors have to take off our shoes to wander through their base.  We aren’t allowed to go all over, only to a few places but they want to maintain a clean environment.  I don’t blame them.  I was glad I was wearing matching socks.   They have a small common room/bar where we watched the rugby game and enjoyed a few beverages.  They have Glenlivet.  HOORAY!  We only have Dewars.  We didn’t stay too long because Renae had to work in the morning.

So yeah, that pretty much wraps it up.  I’m kinda bummed out about my pictures not uploading on here.  And I’m sorry for rambling.  I’ll probably post a more coherent post later but for now, take care.

She sees seal-ies by the seashore.

Monday, September 12, 2011

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Two blogs in one day, you lucky people you.  The main reason for the second blog post is to share my most excellent experience with you.

Today, at about 1600, Pam and I decided to hike down to Hut Point.  It’s about a mile and a half hike from McMurdo.  I was supposed to go with a few fire department people early in the day but never caught up with them so I decided I would wait and go with Pam once she woke up.  It’s a very good thing that I’ve been in this field as long as I have and understand night shift sleep schedules.  Although tempted, I did not call and wake her during the middle of the day.

So she met me in the main lobby type area of 155 and we called the firehouse to let them know we would be OOPR (Out of Pager Range).  Technically, we would still be able to get pages if something was going on, but our response time would be more than the required 10 minutes.  We headed out through town, passing the two main intersections that have four way stops.  Next time I’ll have to remember to get pictures of the stop signs.  On the way back I DID remember to get a picture of the 15 MPH speed limit sign.

We trekked down the slope towards Hut Point, passing the ice pier that is under construction.  Thankfully we were able to get a contract with a Russian ice breaker so the fuel shortage that we were planning for SHOULDN’T be an issue.  The ice pier is between Hut Point and town and has to be constructed this year.  Last year was a warm year so the ice pier is going to be on first year ice.  Honestly, it makes me kind of nervous and very glad that I don’t work in that field.  We watched as the different vehicles scurried along, moving mounds of snow out of the way.  With all of the bad weather we have had lately, it’s been difficult getting this task finished.  This is Pam’s second year down here, so she was explaining the different functions and tasks that I was observing.  She also pointed out some oblong red buildings set on pallets and told me that those were the emergency shelters that will be set out along the Armitage Loop Trail and possibly the Castle Rock Loop.  Both of those are between 10 – 15 mile trails and they want to make sure that people have a place to stop and warm up if needed.

We also passed several small orange buildings that reminded me of beach shacks in the Bahamas and in the Turks and Caicos.  These are actually dive huts that are taken out on the ice.  A large hole will be drilled for divers to enter and exit the water (no I’m NOT that crazy).  Last year, Pam volunteered to help the divers exiting and entering the water.  She had to don a drysuit and go up and down the ladder leading into the water (the ice was eight feet thick) to help the divers remove their tanks when exiting.  Honestly, my hat is off to her.  I’m admittedly clumsy and I’m afraid I would fall in.

Continuing on past the huts, we had to climb up a snowy slope and I fortunately was on solid ice covered snow and Pam stepped into the fluffy snow that was about a foot deep.  It’s ok, there was solid ground underneath, we weren’t in a black flagged area, but I was amused.  I felt like Legolas walking across the snow while everyone else trudged through it.  That’s probably the only time I will compare myself to him.  We got up to Scott’s hut and outside is a seal.  Not an alive seal, one that is probably 100 years old.  It has been preserved naturally over time thanks to this lovely freezing cold weather.  Today wasn’t too bad.  By the time we left, the temp was about 12 degrees and the windchill only brought it down to 2 degrees.  Above zero.  I was wearing a pair of polypro long-johns, silk long-johns, fleece pants, sock liners and wool socks on my lower half.  Upper body clothing consisted of a quick-wik shirt, cashmere sweater and parka.  Oh and lightweight gloves and dad’s camo fleece balclava. I was quite comfortable and most of the time I kept the balclava converted into a makeshift hat.  By the time we got back to the station, I was actually sweating.  Quick-wik material is amazing.  You can’t wear cotton because if you sweat, the cotton will freeze and your core temp can drop quickly.

Now for the exciting part.  We started up the 50 yard slop to Vincent’s Cross, when I look over to the right and see something black on the ice below us.  There, down the hill, were 4 seals lounging about.  IT WAS AWESOME!  There were three big ones and one smaller one.  They were grunting and making noises and just wallowing around.  I started trying to get Pam’s attention as she was walking towards the cross.  I was speaking in what would be called a loud whisper and probably sounded like a rat on crack due to the speed at which I was talking.  She didn’t see them until she came down to me, asking me what I was saying and I just threw out my arm and squealed “SEALS!”.  I, of course, proceeded to switch out camera lenses and got down on the ground so I could balance myself.  I’ve found that I need to prop myself against something when shooting with the larger lens and I didn’t bring a tripod with me.  So I laid down on the lava rock and shale to get some better shots.  It was a tricky area because the slope, although it looked like it extended another 10 feet past where I was thanks to the snow, actually went out only 5 feet and then quickly descended according to Pam. We stayed and watched the seals roll around, flip up their hind flippers, scratch themselves with their front flippers and make their grunty seal sounds.  Oh I love them so.  I feel much like a seal during the morning hours when I don’t want to go to work.  It is not my inner penguin that I channel, it is my inner seal.

After a while, I got up to walk up to the cross to see if I could get a better view.  Finally I have a picture of me in Antarctica doing Antarctica-y things. Pam’s toes started getting cold and we started back down towards town.  I promised the seals I’d be back.  One of them peed.  I’ll take it as a welcome invitation to return any time.  It may have thought differently but chose not to correct me.

We stopped at Scott’s Hut for a few pictures and then made our way back to town.  When we passed by the Tower of Power (not really a tower but it’s the spot where all of the information regarding ice pier clearance) I saw one of my buddies out working on some welding.  I know he’s glad to finally be working.  The weather has been too nasty lately for them to get any of the outdoor work done.  We waved.  He waved.  We continued on.

Upon returning to town, Pam and I walked over to the Firehouse to tell everyone that we saw seals.  We were shot envious looks from people who had previously walked down to Hut Point and had only seen seal poop.  After being told that seals are actually farting when they arch their backs and flip their tails in the air, we decided that we had spent enough time at work when we were off duty and headed to dinner.

I’m ready for cargo planes to come in.  I want freshies (fresh fruits and vegetables).  The roasted vegetable medley that they served tonight was TERRIBLE but the Coq au vin was excellent.  They also had lemon meringue pie that everyone was scarfing down.  I tried it.  The meringue was too sweet for me.  Since I had the sweet taste I decided to make some sweet tea.  The looks I received from several people around me were interesting.  I offered some to my surrounding dinner neighbors and they all refused.  Oh well.  Their loss.

So yes, an exciting day was had.  I’m hoping that tomorrow is just as nice because I want to spend more time watching the seals.  I know they don’t do much but it’s nice seeing other life around here.  I’m hoping that once the ice breaker comes we will also get a chance to see Orcas.  If we get reports of them, I may end up spending an entire off day at Hut Point just to see them.

Take care dear readers and have a great week.