Thursday, May 22, 2008

MCI Drill

Yesterday we had our monthly fire drill. Fire safety is serious business here. We're completely dependent on this station for our survival, and everything is so dessicated that fires are a real danger. That means that fire drills here aren't like they were in elementary school - evacuate the building and wait for the all clear. We have to do whatever we can to save the station.

Because we don't have any extra personnel on station, every one of the winterovers is assigned to an emergency response team - Trauma, Quick Response, SCBA (Self Contained Breathing Apparatus - the firefighters), or Logistics. None of us are experts in the field we're assigned to, but to make sure we're prepared in case something happens, we have monthly fire drills where we practice our duties.

I'm on the logistics team - we haul equipment (oxygen tanks, fire extinguishers, ventilation fans, etc) to and from the site of the incident, and are largely responsible for patient transport from site to Medical.

This month's drill was an MCI - a Mass Casualty Incident. That means there were more casualties than we're prepared to deal with. Yesterday, that meant 4 people down.

The scenario (of course, nobody knew this ahead of time) was that an engine had caught on fire and exploded in the heavy shop, where all our heavy machinery is kept and maintained. It ended up being a really good drill, because it exposed a lot of vulnerabilities that we weren't aware of.

Turns out the heavy shop works as a near-perfect Faraday cage, so no radio comms could get in or out. News never made it out about the 3rd victim, or the location of the fire. It was almost an hour before he was retrieved - by which time he had long since passed - and even longer before the fire was cleared. Had this been for real, the shop would have burned to the ground in about 5 minutes (as happened at McMurdo station a couple of years back).

Without mechanized transport, we had to physically drag the casualties back to medical on sleds, and because it was -90F outside, everyone pulling a sled experienced a fairly severe episode of cold-induced asthma. About 20% of the station spent the rest of the afternoon coughing and trying to catch their breath. Half a dozen got frostbite, too.

All in all, the drill was a bit of a fiasco, though I for one am relieved to have found that out while it was still all pretend. Every now and then I'm reminded that this is a pretty dangerous place to work and live, and the more we can prepare for the worst, the better.

People are working on fixing these failures on every level, and I'm actually feeling somewhat more confident in our ability to deal with a disaster. Here's to hoping it doesn't come to that.


Richard said...

I just found your site; it's very interesting!
Where, in Antarctica are you? What do YOU doing there and what is the whole station doing there?
Is this a scientific laboratory? Who owns it?

Thanks for the info.
Richard Newquist

Richard said...

OH....are you actually at the South Pole? One of my uncles explored part of antarctica and actually had a mountain named after him....McCarroll Peak. It's on that spiral arm sticking out on the left

Keith said...

Hi, Richard.

Yup, I'm at the Amundsen-Scott South Pole station, a scientific research station owned and operated by the US gov't.

I'm a cosmologist, and my job down here is running the South Pole Telescope, a 10m radio telescope about a kilometer away from the station. Check out some of the earlier posts for more details.

Glad you're enjoying the blog.

- Keith

Anonymous said...

Haha...I read that as "cosmotologist" and was like WTF?!?

must be teh T3 givin' me teh dUMB

Hallie said...

Cold-induced asthma...say more about that some time. You know that all the ways that place can kill/craze you are interesting to me. Your sanity seems impressively intact, however.