What is a “Fuelie” you ask? The Fuelies are three women who are here at Palmer Station to clean out a large fuel tank. Wimps need not apply for this job; it’s hard work! I am not going out with the divers on the boat until later this afternoon, so I decided to stop by the fuel tank and check in with Fuelies Emily, Lisa and Jen. Emily has been to Antarctica 6 times; this is her first time at Palmer Station. Prior to this she’s always been at McMurdo. This is Lisa’s 14th season in Antarctica and Jen’s 11th. Lisa and Jen are both on their second visits to Palmer Station and have been at McMurdo the other times. I admire the Fuelies' sense of humor. They have hats and t-shirts that say, "Fuelies: You can smell us coming!" This isn't because of personal hygiene, but because of the smell from the fuel!
The task facing the Fuelies is a daunting one, but they are approaching it with a positive “can-do” attitude. Cleaning the tank involves removing 250,000 gallons of marine grade diesel, some of which has solidified, from the tank. The Fuelies have already shoveled and bucketed out the solidified wax, which they named “Mont Blanc.” They are happy to have conquered it and are now working on the liquid portion.
Until recently, the fuel tanks were painted white. The decision to paint them black was made because black absorbs sunlight better and will help to keep the fuel inside the tanks warmer; hopefully this will prevent it from solidifying. The Amslers and others who have worked at Palmer Station for multiple years have mentioned that it seems strange at first to see the tanks painted black, particularly from the webcam. Click on the link below to take a look at the webcam any time. It will give you an idea of what conditions are like here at Palmer!
Sending people into the tank is somewhat like sending the divers into the water; the Fuelies have to get suited up so that their skin doesn’t come into contact with the fuel and they also need to wear respirators to avoid breathing in dangerous fumes. A person outside the tank needs to call in to the communications folks on the radio so they’re aware that Fuelies are in the tank. As with everything here at Palmer Station, safety comes first.
Here’s a video to give you a better idea of what the Fuelies are up against. The loud engine noise in the background is the motor on the pump that is sucking the liquid out of the tank. Sorry about that, but it will give you a realistic picture of the environment!
Keeping a facility like Palmer Station operating requires hard work and dedication from everyone. I continue to be so impressed by all the people here!