Fire and ice

Expeditioners save a mock patient from the flames
Expeditioners save a mock patient from the flames (Photo: Nisha Harris)
Adjusting the breathing apparatus on an expeditioners head before entering a burning buildingExpeditioners prepare to enter a burning building and retrieve a mock patientThe Casey station fire fighting team carry a stretcher from the fire areaAerial photo of Casey research station

Fire is a constant risk on Australia’s Antarctic stations, with the isolation and arid freezing conditions making firefighting extremely challenging.

This week the team wintering at Casey research station are undertaking specialist fire training with Tasmania Fire Service in Cambridge.

Casey Station Leader, Chris MacMillian, said people don’t expect fire to be an issue on the frozen continent.

“Antarctica is actually the driest continent on Earth, with most of the precipitation falling in the form of snow or ice crystals, and it can also be very windy with regular blizzards,” Ms MacMillian said.

“Fighting fires under these conditions is challenging, so we get some intense training before we depart for our year on the continent.”

The designated fire team learn the latest firefighting and rescue techniques, as well as the use of breathing apparatus.

All the station buildings are well equipped with fire extinguishers and hydrants, and a dedicated fire vehicle remains on permanent standby.

“We are essentially isolated for seven months of the year, relying on each other for fire and other emergency responses.

“The stations are specially designed with separate buildings, so if fire affects one building others remain functional and if needed can used for shelter.

“There’s also an emergency cache of food, clothing, tents and medical supplies in a separate 20 foot container well away from station.”

Once on station the Fire Team will undertake regular drills to keep their skills honed for their year on the ice.

Fire and ice

Video transcript

Adam Doran - Tasmania Fire Service

It’s a secondary job for them down there. So we’ve got cooks, plumbers and fridge mechanics and we are trying to mould them all into a firefighting unit.

Chris MacMillian – Casey Station Leader

We’ve been going through the basics of firefighting, including emergency response with an extinguisher, also handling of hoses, also BA, breathing apparatus training, and also team work and going in to fight a fire.

Adam Doran - Tasmania Fire Service

Some of the conditions they face are at an extreme level. So relative humidity is a big one for them. It sits at nearly around zero percent. So to put that in our terms if we have humidity at that level here in Tasmania, we are facing catastrophic conditions and that’s their normal.

Chris MacMillian – Casey Station Leader

Water is a particular challenge in the Antarctic. We only have limited supply, and that is for all uses of water, so the firefighting water is limited. Then you have the freezing conditions that also may affect your ability to use the water effectively. We’re only dependent on ourselves for up to six months of the year. We really have to know each other, work well together, communicate well and rely on each other.

[end transcript]