Field work and emergency response training.

Two days on the plateau

The morning of April 29 saw Trevor, Angus and John B departing station in a Hägglunds and travelling up onto the plateau for an overnight work trip. The sky was overcast, but with milder temperatures and minimal wind it was an ideal day to head for Mt Parsons to do some work on a recently installed antenna. We drove along the Fang cane line, almost as far as Fang hut, before continuing around to the eastern side of the mountain, to where we began our climb. Carrying the necessary survival and work gear, we ascended the moderately angled scree slopes to the summit to be rewarded with spectacular views of all the familiar Framnes peaks. An hour or so later we had guy wires attached to the antenna and the new antenna commissioned.

Going down scree is always much quicker than going up and we were soon back down at the Hägglunds. From there it was a short drive around to Fang hut.

The plateau huts are welcome refuges, especially during the colder months. With good company, ample food and the gas heater providing warmth we enjoyed a pleasant evening. At 1900 we did the radio schedule with station: “Alpha, Fang hut; Bravo, everyone is well; Charlie, Hägglunds running satisfactorily; Delta, cane line work and return to station by 1700; Echo, fine, clear sky, minimal wind; Foxtrot, good going on the blue ice, slow travel on sastrugi in places; Golf, no other information. Over.” Not long afterwards, we were in our sleeping bags. Outside the cloud had cleared away to a starry sky and the temperature had dropped. Mawson recorded an overnight minimum of −24°C, so at Fang hut it was probably around −28°C.

April 30 was a cracker of a day: sunny, cloudless and perfectly calm! After breakfast, cleaning the hut and doing the morning schedule (confirming our intentions for the day) we headed off with the aim of doing some maintenance work on the cane lines. The cane lines mark the commonly used travel routes on the plateau and connect the station with the three plateau huts (Fang, Henderson and Rumdoodle). GPS is the primary navigational tool but it is reassuring to have a cane line to follow as well.

Conditions could not have been better and our group of three was soon working efficiently, putting in new canes where needed and cutting out older canes which had either been blown over in blizzards or had fallen over during the summer melt. During the day we completed the line from Fang hut to Mawson, as well as the loop into Rumdoodle hut. We arrived back on station at 1600, just as the sun was setting, after a very successful and satisfying two days.

Mawson fire training: BA exercise

As expeditioners, working for the Australian Antarctic Division and wintering at the Mawson station, we get the opportunity to experience many other roles usually carried out by professionals. 

One role is being a member of the emergency response team or ERT which includes fire fighting, search and rescue, and lay surgical assistants. Expeditioners in the fire fighting teams are required to learn and practice many new skills enabling them to deal with a fire here at Mawson.

This week our ERT number one team (we have two teams that are scheduled on a week about roster) was put through their paces during a strenuous breathing apparatus (BA) training exercise in the green store. This exercise was compiled to check the effectiveness of wearing BA, and working in BA, whilst sporting some traditional, and some not so traditional Antarctic beards.

In ERT number one, we have a range from our clean shaven Angus, stylish trimmed Kim, Wolverine lookalike Robbie, team leader Charlie and Peter Layt with the classic Antarctic facial hair. Monitoring their air usage is Rob Cullen on BA control, also our fire Hägglunds driver.

The exercise involved three different drills whilst wearing the complete fire fighting turnout clothing outfit and BA. Firstly, each member was given a large fire extinguisher to carry. They needed to ascend and descend a stairwell for a timed period of five minutes. Next, each member was asked to deploy and roll in a 40 mm fire hose. Finally, as a team, they were required to carry a stretcher (complete with appropriately heavy mannequin) over a set distance through a series of obstacles. The three drills were completed in approximately 20 minutes.

At the conclusion of the exercise, everyone agreed it was time well spent in refreshing their original training in Hobart, Tasmania and further development of the required breathing apparatus skills.