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31 March, 2000

Fire Drill

Question 41: What is the difference between the Celsius and Centigrade temperature scales?

The station has to hold a minimum of one fire drill every month. Today was the day for March! The risk of fire isn't as great here as at the south pole where the air is much drier, but with our isolation it is still a concern. With no fire station to call for help, we have to supply our own firefighters. Several people on the station crew go through a week of fire-fighting training at the Rocky Mountain Fire Academy in Colorado before coming down here. During their training they practice using the SCBA (self-contained breathing apparatus) units and handling fire hoses and extinguishers, learn about how fires move and grow, and practice search and rescue techniques for finding lost people in smoky buildings. They also are trained to respond to hazardous material spills. The station has a fire suppression system in Bio Lab and GWR that consists of a huge pressurized tank of water.

When an alarm goes off, the three or four station crew members designated as first responders grab fire extinguishers and head for the source of the alarm to check it out . Meanwhile, the four firefighters (two teams of two) and the one backup firefighter are suiting up. They wear heavy boots, fire and heat retardant pants and heavy coats just like firefighters everywhere. The face mask seals to keep out smoke and is connected to the SCBA unit that is worn with the valve down on the back. Each firefighter has two sets of gear, one in GWR, one in Bio Lab so he/she can dress in whichever is nearest when the alarm goes off.

Other members of the staff have designated tasks to perform during a fire. The station manager is the fire marshal. He is in command at the scene, sending in or pulling out SCBA teams, calling for the doctor, giving orders to other personnel, and making all decisions. The maintenance technician stands by the fire suppression tank and back-up generator in Bio Lab with a radio, ready to pressurize the system on command from the fire marshal. Our work order coordinator mans the muster station and makes sure all the people on the station are accounted for. The communication technician relays information and records what is done in the coms log.

The rest of us are responsible for mustering (exiting the building we are in and assembling at the boathouse). If the fire is at the boathouse, we muster in the GWR garage. When we arrive at the muster point we are accounted for and are available to help those dealing directly with the fire in any way needed. This is the main reason we have to sign out on the board when we leave the immediate station area. In case of an emergency, we do not want the firefighters to be risking themselves searching for someone who is away from the station and not in the burning building. Since we are so far away from advanced medical help, the primary aim of the firefighters is to keep the fire from spreading any further, not necessarily to put it out. They would go into a fully engaged fire only to look for missing people and get them out. Today the drill had an added twist to it, a missing person. The fire marshal had arranged that Chuck should "collapse" as if overcome by smoke in the aquarium and not show up at the muster point. After he was identified as missing, the fire team went in and conducted a search of the Bio Lab building.

This morning was still cold but sunny. By afternoon, the winds had changed and a huge cloud front came in. Looking at the weather satellite images, we see a series of storm systems coming in (see the 4/24 journal for more weather information).

Answer 40: Since the Treaty was implemented in 1961, the Treaty nations have adopted additions and protocols (working directions) to the basic Treaty. One is the Convention for the Conservation of Marine Living Resources. It deals with an ecosystem approach to managing fish and krill resources and sets up a monitoring program. In 1991, the nations adopted an Environmental Protocol to the Antarctic Treaty which requires environmental assessment of all proposed human activity in Antarctica and prohibits oil, gas and other mineral exploitation for 50 years. It also updated the protection of areas with specific scientific importance. The Antarctic Treaty is very much a current and active document.

Fire fighters' suits in the basement of Bio Lab.

SCBA backpack units and fire extinguishers.

Stormy weather coming.

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