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Meet McMurdo Fire DepartmentMeet McMurdo - Fire Department

Meet McMurdo Fire Department

Even in this extreme environment, I’m constantly surprised at how similar McMurdo Station is to the way things are back at home. This includes firefighters! But as I look around, I don’t see any brush that can catch on fire, and there aren’t any trees for kittens to get stuck in. (Oh wait, there aren’t any kittens here either). So, I wondered, how do firefighters spend their days?

Let’s take a quick jaunt over to the Fire Station to find out.

Fire Station

McMurdo has two fire stations. Station 1, the main station, as you might expect, is located in the middle of McMurdo. The second station is at the airfield and is only manned during the summer.

Fire houseMcMurdo Station Fire House. Photo credit: Alex Eilers.

There are 40 members of the McMurdo Fire station, some work at the main station, some at the air field. These guys (and gals) work about 96 hours a week in four 24-hour shifts! And as I just found out, they have a lot of responsibilities. Not only do they fight fires, but they:

  • Do fire safety training
  • Routinely check all of the buildings to ensure they are safe
  • Drive the ambulances when there is an emergency
  • Are trained to give medical attention. In fact, most of the firefighters here in McMurdo are trained paramedics or emergency medical technicians (EMTs).
  • They are also hazmat-trained, which means they can handle dangerous chemicals.

Basically, most any emergency is handled by the McMurdo firefighters.

That’s quite a responsibility. And from what I’ve seen, these guys are good at their job!

But it’s not all work; they get to have a little fun as well. And we are in luck! It’s the Fire Station Expo!

Fire Station Expo

The Fire Station Expo is an annual event (luckily, held in December), where the entire McMurdo community is invited to visit the fire station and ‘become a firefighter’ for the day.

Doesn’t that sound like fun?

Fire trucks in Antarctica?

Seal team on Engine 2Seal team on top of Engine 2. Photo courtsey of Alex Eilers.
Alex with Engine 2Look out McMurdo, Ms. Alex is behind the wheel. Photo credit: Greg Frankfurter.

Since we all stay in such a ‘close’ community, if there is a fire in McMurdo, the firefighters usually don’t have far to travel. But they still have to get to the fire with all of their equipment. That’s where the fire truck comes in handy. What impressed me most was that these trucks carry 2,000 gallons of water in a single load. Most trucks back at home carry less than 1,000 gallons.

Alex ready with the fire hoseReady, aim... Alex ready with the fire hose. Photo credit: Antarctic Fire Department.

And it just wouldn’t be right if we didn’t get to actually work the fire hose. Here I am with John, in a virtual bowling lane trying to knock down my ‘pins’ or cones with the water from the fire hose.

Score! I got a strike, by the way!

Fire House bowlingStrike! Fire House bowling. Photo credit: Antarctic Fire Department.

Tripod retrieval system

Continuing on our tour we were met by firefighters, Chris and Mike, who demonstrated how the tripod retrieval system works. This contraption is used to lift workers through a hole or small crevasse. What surprised me was how similar it was to the tripod we use to weigh seals. And it did give our team some thoughts as how to modify our tripod for use in the field.

Tripod retrieval system Tripod retrieval system. Photo credit: Alex Eilers.

Jaws of Life

The jaws of life are no match for this 50 gallon barrel. It cut through it with ease!

I was ready to cover my ears in anticipation of the bending, twisting, and screeching metal but it was surprisingly quiet?!? It cut through the barrel almost as quietly as scissors cuts through paper. No joke!

Jaws of Life Jaws of Life. Photo credit: Greg Frankfurter.

Search and Rescue

Luckily there are not many ‘real’ fires down here but a HUGH part of being a firefighter is being prepared. So training is the top priority, and our team got to experience that today.

We became a ‘firefighter’ for the day (or at least for about an hour).

Here’s was our search and rescue scenario:

You (that’s me) are a McMurdo firefighter. Dispatch has just received a call about a fire in the firehouse dorms. One of your team mates (another firefighter) was fighting the fire and he is not responding. You have been asked to locate the down firefighter and bring him to safety.

Not a task to take lightly!

So, our two-party team (Jenn and I) receive brief training and donned our gear. Since this is a real scenario, we used actual gear. Although in my case, I could have used ‘kid-sized’ gear as the clothing was way too big for me. It kind of felt as if I was playing dress-up.

Dress upMs. Alex dressing the part. Photo courtsey of Alex Eilers.

Gear, air tank and mask, check. Gear onMs. Alex with all the gear. Photo courtsey of Alex Eilers.

Smoke-filled rooms, check.
Smoke-filled room.This is getting real! Photo credit: Greg Frankfurter. WOW! This simulation is getting real!

And we are off.

We crawled along the hallways in a purposeful search pattern and locate our ‘victim’ fairly quickly. Our victim, by the way, weighed over 300 pounds and was located half-way under a bed. These firefighters are really making it difficult/realistic.

With a little bit of effort on our part. OK, with a lot of effort on our part. We finally got the firefighter to safety.

Truth be told, this was my favorite area, by far!

Whew! I have the utmost respect for this profession!

We ended the day with, what else, but a bowl of ‘firehouse’ chill. Firehouse chiliWhat a way to end the day! Photo credit: Alex Eilers.

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