Search and rescue training in extreme climates and diesos prepare for summer at Casey station.

Search and rescue exercise

Last Friday we conducted a whole station search and rescue exercise. In Antarctica, safety is an ever present concern as the environment is unforgiving and we are a long way from outside help. Because of this we need to be very careful in how we conduct ourselves and we need to be able to respond to emergencies when they do arise with only the skills and experience that our small group of expeditioners brings with us. Fortunately, amongst the Casey wintering team, there exists a range of skills in technical rescue, wilderness first aid and other specialties that can be an important part of an emergency response. During the course of the year we undertake various drills and exercises that help hone existing skills, teach new ones and assist us to learn to work effectively as a team.

On Friday we set a scenario where two expeditioners had found trouble when away from station on quad bikes. We had a garbled radio call come in giving us effectively no useful information and in response we set off the SAR alarm and responded to the incident as if it were real. Initially it was very important to gather as much information as we could about where the missing expeditioners may have been, what route they followed, what they were wearing, how they were feeling etc. This all would help us determine where to look and what additional factors would affect how we responded to the incident. While the incident response team gathered and assessed the information, the first responders and second responders made themselves and their equipment ready and others on station attended to critical duties like communications, preparing the medical suite to receive a casualty, final checks on vehicles and ensuring that food, drink, maps, blankets and other items were ready to be taken into the field to support the whole operation.

The scenario was set to be deliberately difficult and information poor in order to test our ability to deduce what had happened and to conduct a search of a large area. The weather conditions for the day were fine, with the temperature around −20 and winds mostly below 20 knots.

Several hours after the incident started our ‘lost’ and ‘injured’ expeditioners were located by first responders Cam and Dan and eventually retrieved and taken back to station where the medical team had set up the clinic for anaesthesia and surgery. Once we had everyone back on station, we conducted a debrief for about an hour before the doctor and the lay surgical assistants continued with the medical/surgical component of the emergency response exercise.

We were very happy with how the day unfolded and SAR Leader Jason made it clear to the whole the team that he was pleased with their performance. Everybody knew their role and conducted themselves extremely well, both as individuals and as part of the team. We were well prepared and progressed through the exercise at a rate consistent with expectations. Whilst we identified some improvements that we could incorporate in the future, we concluded that we were well prepared for the start of the busy summer season and the influx of another 60 people at the end of the month. But the key lessons reinforced at the end of the day were to be careful, be safe and follow procedure. This is not the place to be getting into trouble in the field. 

Mark Hunt, Station Leader 

Mechanical preparation for the summer

This time of year is a special one for many reasons. The animals are slowly returning, the sun is up long before most of us, those of us that have been here for the winter are counting down the days till the ship arrives, and the whole station is being prepped for “The Silly Season”.

We are expecting the first of the summer crew to arrive on 26th October and the madness can begin. In the Dieso’s workshop we have been busy de-winterising vehicles supporting the building of the skiway and getting organised for the start of the summer works program.

Cam and I started summer preparation by digging out the boatshed where most of the summer vehicles are stored over the winter months. The roller door was the main challenge as the snow had built up covering the entire door area.

Lots of shovel time later we had the door open, batteries in trucks and engines running. The Wilkins bobcat needed to be done first so we took it up to the workshop and put the other vehicles back in cold storage. Cam got stuck into the bobcat and I went to get all the quad bikes to give them a once over. Not surprisingly everything was sweet and they all passed with flying colours, only needing the tyre pressures redone.

There’s still lots more trucks and machines to have the snow dug out of them and then fired back to life after seven months of lying dormant, waiting for the relatively warm temperatures and hard work of the summer season, but we’ll have it all done by the time the next lot of expeditioners turn up and begin to call Casey Station their home.

Mike Kennard, Team Dieso