Antarctic stations need to be self reliant for a fire fighting capability, and all wintering expeditioners are put through a thorough fire fighting course with TASFIRE during pre-departure training, including use of positive pressure compressed air breathing apparatus (BA). We follow that up with periodic refresher training on station. Additionally, our summer expeditioners have also received basic BA training on station.
For our latest refresher training last week, we simulated a scenario of critical relevance to our pending resupply activities during the voyage four (V4) visit due in early April. V4 will bring four helicopters, so fire chiefs Scotty and Keon set up a simulated helicopter fire on the new helipad at the machinery shed which will serve as an overnight hangar. Our chippies constructed an impressively realistic mock helicopter for the purpose. Well, it had all the essential parts of a helicopter (the big rotating thing, the little rotating thing, the non-rotating thing).
In reality, a member of the helicopter ground crew would be on hand with a large foam extinguisher to provide an immediate response to extract crew, and our station team would be a back-up response. For the exercise, our fire team responded to a fire alarm and mustered at the fire hut to don their fire fighting gear and proceed to the accident site. After rolling out hoses and connecting to the fire water supply stand pipe, they attacked the fire with simulated foam, and then approached under cover of a protective spray to check for ‘casualties'.
After dousing the fire, we conducted a second exercise. In recent months, concern had been expressed at various levels within the organisation regarding the impact of beards on the effectiveness of the facial seal when wearing the BA mask. This would risk a leak of air and reduced wear time. As our fire team contains members with varying degrees of facial adornment from the non-existent to the extreme hirsute ‘full Santa', seven of our team donned full kit and BA, recorded air pressures, and embarked on the ‘BA Beard Challenge'. This consisted of a kilometre or so walk down the isthmus to our razorback steps, up to the razorback tourist viewing platform (about 50 metres elevation), and back again to the machinery shed. This took about 20 minutes, which should use most of the air in a BA cylinder. It did. A comparison of air used by the various team members showed a fair variation, but the good news for our bearded brethren is that this variation does not appear to bear any relation to the degree of hairiness of the face. So it would seem to present little evidence to support an argument in favour of enforced shaving of the fire team!