Moving Day, Closure of the Sea Ice Runway, Back to Pegasus

Yesterday various departments at McMurdo Station came together to start the big move of “Ice Town” from the Annual Sea Ice Runway to the Pegasus White Ice Runway, located on the permanent Ice Shelf.  Things started the evening of December 1st, 2011.  Fleet Ops came out to the Sea Ice Runway and towed Red 3 on a “Magic Carpet” out to the Pegasus White Ice Runway.

Early in the morning on December 2nd, 2011 two Firefighters came out to the Ice Runway early to drive Red 1 through town and out to Pegasus.  The whole trip is about 25 miles and Red 1 travels about 10 miles per hour at top speed.  We then started placing electronics and computers on couches facing each other, and laying down large book cases and the refrigerator.  We were prepping the station to be towed about 15 miles by a CAT D8 Bulldozer out to the new airfield.

The LC-130’s from the NY ANG started taking off around 11am.  They had to wait to for Red 1 and Red 3 to arrive at Pegasus so there was an ARFF crew on the ground in case there was an emergency.  The LC-130’s took off and the flight crews were transported by Helicopter back to the Ice Runway to pick up the other LC-130’s on the ground.

Right around noon the flight operations were over for the Summer 2011-2012 season at the Annual Sea Ice Runway. The UT’s stopped and shut off the oil heater on the station, and then the lineman came over and let us know they would be cutting the power to the fire station.  The remaining guys on B-Shift and I loaded up in the van and Ambulance 2 for the ride back to McMurdo.  B-Shift was off for the day, and I was headed out to Pegasus.

The 18 mile drive from McMurdo to Pegasus was awesome.  It was a very bright, sunny, and clear day.  I arrived out at Pegasus around 1:45pm.  We had a couple of ARFF units there, but no fire station, and no other buildings from “Ice Town.” I met up with the crew and we all were awaiting the arrival of our vehicles and fire station.  Around 6pm the fire station was towed in to place.  The only downside was that we would be living in it for the next 24 hours without any heat, and no electricity.

With the sunny day the station stayed fairly warm, we removed the window coverings to all some radiant heat inside.  Eventually it was time for bed.  We all had extreme cold weather sleeping bags and it got a little chilly inside the station over night.  In the morning we took heater used to keep the airplanes warm when they land and stuck the hose inside the fire station to warm the place up.  As the day progressed the lack of power started to get challenging.

With the ingenuity that Firefighters possess we ran an extension cored from the generator on Red 1 and powered up the tv and dvd player.  We also plugged in the coffee pot and water warmer on the tracks of Red 1.  As the day went on more buildings continued to arrive at Pegasus.  The highlight of the day was when the Lineman arrived and started to string the secondaries from the “White Elephant” generator and finally made the connection to the fire station around 7pm.  With power and heat back on in the station it wasn’t long till most of us retired for the evening.

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Filed under Antarctic Fire Dept, Living Conditions, Pegasus Ice Runway, Sea-Ice Runway

McMurdo Fire Station #1 Bldg 182

McMurdo Station has had a professionally staffed fire department since the days that it was under control of the United States Navy Support Forces Antarctica.  From 1956 through 1994 the fire department was staff by the Navy.  In 1994 McMurdo Station went under the control of the National Science Foundation and the Firefighters and Officers positions were staffed by civilians.

During the Summer Season the Antarctic Fire Department staff’s three fire stations on the Antarctic continent.  Below is our basic structure and setup.

Station # 1 McMurdo Station Antarctica

  • Dispatch / Fire Alarm Communications Center
    • Staffed 24/7 by 4 Dispatchers on rotating 12 hr shifts
    • Dispatch Supervisor Monday through Saturday 0730-1730
  • Fire Administration
    • Fire Chief Monday through Saturday 0730-1730
    • Deputy Chief (Full-Time Captain) Monday through Saturday 0730-1730
  • Line Personnel
    • Fire Captain Monday through Saturday 0730-1730
    • Two Lieutenants per shift 48 hours on 48 hours off
    • Four Firefighters per shift 48 hours on 48 hours off
  • Apparatus / Vehicles
    • Engine 1 – 1000gpm/750 gallons
    • Engine 2 – 1000gpm/750 gallons
    • Tanker 3 – 750gpm/3500 gallons
    • Ambulance 1 – ALS
    • Rescue 4 – Technical Rescue Equipment
    • Van 200 – Personnel Transport / Utility Vehicle

Station # 2 Sea Ice Runway / Pegasus White Ice Runway

  • Line Personnel
    • Fire Captain Monday through Saturday 0730-1730
    • One Lieutenant per shift 48 hours on 48 hours off
    • Seven Firefighters per shift 48 hours on 48 hours off
  • Apparatus / Vehicles
    • Red 1 – 1200 gallons agent
    • Red 2 – 1200 gallons agent
    • Red 3 – 540 gallons agent
    • Red 4 – 540 gallons agent
    • Red 5 – 540 gallons agent
    • Red 6 – 540 gallons agent
    • Ambulance 2 – ALS Ambulance









Station # 3 South Pole

  • Line Personnel
    • Fire Captain Monday – Saturday based on Flight Schedule
    • Five Firefighters Monday – Saturday based on Flight Schedule
  • Apparatus / Vehicles
    • Sled 1 – 1040 gallons agent
    • Sled 2 – 1040 gallons agent

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Mass Casualty Incident (MCI) Drill and a In Flight Emergency (IFE) at McMurdo Station Antarctica

Today was the annual MCI drill here at McMurdo Station Antarctica.  It’s a real time test of the CEMP’s Mass Casualty annex.  The drill scenario was a inbound LC-130 Hercules with an on board fire filling the cabin with smoke due to land at the Sea Ice Runway in 15 minutes.  The crew from Station 2 (ARFF Station) responded to the flight line with Red 1, Red 3, Red 5, and Ambulance 2.  The crew from Engine 1 in town assembled 8 complete SCBA’s and 8 spare cylinders to send with the off duty recalled personnel from B-Shift out to the Ice Runway.

The drill plane “landed” and the scenario began.  The fire department rescued several crew and passengers from the plane, performed triage, and then awaited vans and stretcher bearers from town to arrive.  Once personnel arrived on the scene they took the triaged injured subjects back to Station 1 for treatment.

The interesting part was when the tones sounded and bells rang in Station 1 announcing a declared In Flight Emergency for an inbound LC-130 with a landing gear problem.  The pucker factor was intense, here we are drilling for the real thing, and now we have the potential for the real thing.  The drill continued, and the inbound LC-130 landed without issue.  Just another interesting day at the Antarctic Fire Department.

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Working Fire in Building 155

The Antarctic Fire Department was again put to the test with yet another working fire at McMurdo Station in Building 155.  The alarm rang in and the crew from Engine 1 responded to a smell of something burning inside the Galley office.  After a little investigation it was determined the smell and fire was located in the commercial laundry facility accessed from the outside of Building 155.  The crews encountered smoke and requested a recall of all off duty personnel.

This brought in off duty staff, the command staff, and the balance of fire department units into the scene.  Engine 2 laid a line into Engine 1, and the crews made quick work of the fire with a 1.75″ handline.  Some additional time was spent checking for extension under the building.  For a place that might not seem the place to have fires, we’ve actually had a couple so far this season.

The photo’s are courtesy of one of the DA’s (Dining Assistants) that lives in Bldg 155 and decided to snap some photo’s as the drama unfolded.

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Sea Ice Runway Crash Crew McMurdo Station Antarctica

Today at Station 2, the ARFF Station at the Sea Ice Runway, we got outside to shoot a few photo’s, and have a little fun after a solid afternoon of flight activity.  A few of you have asked questions about our ARFF units.  RED 1 and RED 2 are the big tracked vehicles.  They each carry about 1100 gallons of a 6% Water/AFFF Foam mixture.  The smaller pickup truck units, RED 3, RED 4, RED 5, and RED 6 each carry about 550 gallons of AFFF and 200 lbs of PKP (Purple K) extinguishing agent.

A few of the guys in the photo’s just arrived on station in the last few weeks so they wanted to have a little fun and made some snow angels.  I guess we were cooped up in the station a little too long.  We’re in Building 31 at the Runway.  Back in the day, and present day, some people on station refer to this building as the “Crash Shack,” because this is part of our job responsibility, but we’re hoping not to have any aircraft crashes.

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Happy Camper Snow Survival School McMurdo Antarctica

 The last two days of my Antarctic experience were spent camping in a tent about 11 miles from McMurdo Station in a survival school popularly known as “Happy Camper.”  Also known as Snow School, the Field Safety Training Program group trains scientists, field camp personnel, and those who work in remote locations.  The goal of the program is to provide these personnel the knowledge of what to do if they become stranded and have to survive in the elements of Antarctica.  We started the day in the classroom with some preparatory classroom stuff, and then around 1000 hours we were riding out to Happy Camper in a Delta.  A Delta is a large personnel transport vehicle.

The Delta dropped us off at the edge of the road to the facility.  It was nice seeing two snow mobiles and a trailer attached to one of them.  Then reality set in and I realized I’d be walking in with all the gear I was required to bring, and the other things that I thought would make my experience more enjoyable.  My extra things weren’t worth hauling.  So we trekked down the Red/Green flag line about 3/4 of a mile to the I-Hut (Instruction Hut) dropped our gear, and headed into the classroom.

We then spent a few hours learning about survival practices, how to take care of hypothermic people, how to use a survival stove, and other things that we’d be challenged to do in the two day adventure.  We practiced lighting the stoves outside, and how to burrito wrap a hypothermic patient in multiple sleeping bags.  We also ate some lunch, and I packed some extra sandwiches and goodies in my coat. I had a heads up that once we left the building we’d be eating dehydrated survival meals.

The classroom portion ended and we headed over to the sleeping kit area.  We were issued a cold weather sleeping (body) bag, a fleece sleeping bag liner, and a 1/4 inch foam sleeping pad.  I stuffed all my sleep gear into a duffle bag and loaded it onto the snowmobile with the trailer.  The bad news, again I had to schlep all my gear another 3/4 of a mile to our campsite.  We got to the supply building and loaded up a bunch of tents, shovels, snow axes, saws, and trail marking flags onto these big sleds.  My happy camper buddy from the fire department and I dragged a sled full of gear another 1/4 of a mile to our campsite.

We arrived at the campsite and the work began.  We had a number of tasks needing completing before we could all camp out for the evening.  We had to set up 9 tents, construct a 150 ft x 4 ft snow wall, setup our kitchen, establish radio communications, and eat a hot meal.  Right around 1600 hrs our instructors left us for the night.  They were going back to the I-Hut to sleep in the warm building.  It was our mission to manage the division of labor to complete everything.  We made it all happen and I finished up eating my dinner right around 2145 hrs.

Sleeping in the tent was an experience.  I hadn’t anticipated how I would sleep considering it now stays daylight outside 24 hrs a day.  I let my tent mate get settled first, and then I got in the tent.  It was a small tent, certainly for survival only.  I took off all of my cold weather gear, my other layers of clothing, and slept in my mummy bag in only a T-shirt, long underwear, and clean dry socks.  I did wear a winter hat, which I pulled over my eye’s to make it dark, and I rolled up my big red jacket to use as a pillow.

It was strange sleeping outside in a tent in Antarctica.  The temperature inside the tent hovered in the mid 20’s overnight.  Every little noise and gust of wind hit the tent and made sleeping difficult.  Some people slept with earplugs, I just toughed it out.  Morning arrived, and it was time to get moving again.  We broke down camp, and boiled up some water for my breakfast of oatmeal and hot chocolate.  We contacted our instructors and they came to pick up some of our gear on the snow mobile.

We did a little more survival training, and even got to set up a field radio that we used to contact the USAP South Pole Station.  Overall as bad as the experience may have sounded it was really a great time and something that I’d love to do again if I ever got the chance.  Also one of the Happy Campers in our group wrote a blog about her experience and snapped a few photo’s that had me in them.  You can check out her links here Happy Camping at Happy Camper Day 1 and Happy Camping at Happy Camper Day 2.

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Filed under Environment, Living Conditions, Recreation, Scenery, Travel

Arrival Heights, ASPA, Antarctica

Today was an interesting 48 tour at the Antarctic Fire Department here at McMurdo Station.  This afternoon I was assigned to complete fire inspections on three buildings in the ASPA area.  ASPA stands for Antarctic Specially Protected Area.  ASPAs are areas that are protected from human development and were established through the Antarctic Treaty. There are currently 71 ASPA sites in Antarctica  Traveling into an ASPA area without permission can get you a fine of about $10,000 because it’s considered a violation of Federal Law and the Antarctic Treaty which was signed in 1959.

After arranging an escort with a scientist from Crary Lab, another officer and I proceeded up the roadway to Arrival Heights.  We passed by the Castle Rock trail, and a few other industrial storage sites on our way out of town.  Our first stop was a project called SuperDARN (Super Dual Auroral Radar Network).  it was a small shack with some electronic equipment and an area the size of two football fields full of radar equipment.  The SuperDARN is a network of over 20 similar radars located in Antarctica and the Arctic that measure the position and velocity of charged particles in the Earth’s ionosphere, the highest layer of the Earth’s atmosphere.  The movements of these particles are tied to the movements of the Earth’s magnetic field which, in turn, extends into space.  SuperDARN data provides scientists with information regarding the Earth’s interaction with the space environment.

After stopping at SuperDARN we moved on to a research station known located at and popularly known as Arrival Heights.  It’s a building composed of several rooms, including a small apartment in case the weather takes a turn for the worse and you’re stuck there.  Arrival Heights is home to equipment that studies a variety of things in the the upper atmosphere.  They do trace gas monitoring (particularly the ozone), aurora and geomagnetic studies, and air quality surveys. Since these projects are highly sensitive to air pollution and electromagnetic disturbances, they are protected by ASPA.  This is also why were not allowed to transmit on our radios, use headlights or emergency lights because of the sensitive scientific equipment used.  Now if there truly was an emergency, special permission must be gained while responding to an emergency allowing access to this area, otherwise we’d be subject to violating the treaty.

After inspecting Arrival Heights we moved down the hill to a NASA satellite station.  There wasn’t a whole lot to see at this location.  It was a building full of electronic equipment and a radar golf ball up on the hill adjacent to the building with more radar equipment.  The inspections in this area were truly something special because I was able to travel into an area that many people are rarely able to go even though they are in Antarctica.

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32 Hours of Condition 1 at the Ice Runway

McMurdo Station Antarctica experienced very poor weather conditions the last few days.  To allow this entry to make a little more sense here are a few quick definitions of the three Weather Conditions we have here on station.

Severe Weather Condition I – Severe weather is in progress. All personnel must remain in buildings or the nearest shelter.

  • Winds greater than 55 knots sustained for one minute, or
  • Visibility less than 100 feet sustained for one minute, or
  • Wind chill greater than -100°F sustained for one minute.

Severe Weather Condition II
– Restricted pedestrian traffic only between buildings is allowed. Vehicular travel is only allowed in radio equipped, enclosed vehicles, and check out with the Firehouse.

  • Winds 48 to 55 knots sustained for one minute, or
  • Visibility less than ¼ mile, but greater than or equal to 100 feet sustained for one minute, or
  • Wind chill -75°F to -100°F sustained for one minute.

Weather Condition III – Unrestricted travel and activity are allowed.

  • Winds less than 48 knots, and
  • Visibility greater than or equal to ¼ mile, and
  • Wind chill temperature warmer than -75°F.

On Monday the weather started to get a little blustery.  Flights were delayed and just after lunch the Airfield Manager officially closed the Ice Runway and cancelled all remaining flights for the day.  .  This was our final prepared meal for the next following 44 hours.  It was still Condition 2 around 1300 hrs so we went over to the Galley at the Ice Runway and scavenged up some food because we knew poorer weather would soon be arriving.

At about 1600 hrs the weather officially went to Condition 1 and the lockdown started.  The weather became progressively worse, the winds picked up, visibility dropped and our internment inside Station 2 at the Ice Runway began.

So for the next 30 hours we were fortunate to keep power and internet service available at the firehouse.  We were also able to complete a few training programs, and review a training video.  Around 2200 hrs Monday night most of us racked out for the evening in hopes the weather would be nice by morning.  I awoke several times throughout the night to the sound of the cargo tie down straps, wind and snow blowing against the window of my bunkroom.

The Tuesday morning 0700 hrs wake up call came in from the dispatch/alarm office at Station 1 to let us know everything was still shut down for the day and that the Ice Runway still remained under Severe Weather Condition 1.  We passed the time with a few more training classes and then we maintained a state of readiness, preparing for the weather to break, and start digging out our ARFF Fire Apparatus.

Throughout the day I took calls from the airfield manager asking about conditions, and sights from the few windows in the fire station.  Snow was drifting all over Ice Town and the drifts just kept growing as the time passed.  One highlight was when the wind started blowing so hard the station was shaking.  Cabin fever was at an all time high until around 2230 Tuesday night.  At that time the weather condition was set back to Severe Weather Condition 2 and we ventured outside for some fresh Antarctic air and perform an assessment of the airfield.

We found many of our vehicles snowed inside 3 to 5 foot drifts of snow.  Throughout the town and between buildings we found drifts as high as 6 feet.  We performed an assessment on all six ARFF units and our Ambulance.  We popped the hoods and started clearing packed snow from the vehicles.  One of the units had snow that couldn’t be cleared so we called the Vehicle Maintenance Facility to send out a thawing unit.  Around 2330 hours the heavy equipment and operators arrived at the runway and started the process of digging out.

At about 0330 hrs Wednesday morning I received a call from the US Air Force Colonel in NZ who manages the C-17 cargo flights.  He was checking on the status of the frozen ARFF apparatus.  I explained the situation and let him know we’d send him a status update as soon as it was thawed and that it shouldn’t impact flight operations for the day.   The thawing unit arrived around 0430 hrs and our ARFF apparatus was thawed out by 0630 hrs.

At 0700 the whole crew assembled and went outside to clear the remaining snow from the tracks, and then move all the vehicles into a plowed area.  Fleet Ops then came by and finished plowing the remaining snow away from the fire station.  B-Shift arrived to take over right on time at 0830hrs and we were back in town by 0930 hrs.  The whole thing proved to be an interesting experience.

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FAA Challenger Flight Navigation Aids McMurdo Station

This week the FAA Challenger arrived at McMurdo Station Antarctica to test and certify the various aircraft navigation aids.  The Challenger aircraft will be doing test flights over the three landing sites here at McMurdo.  They’ll be flying over the Williams Field Skiway, Pegasus Ice Runway/Skiway, and the Ice Runway.

The navigation aids used at the NSF’s Antarctic Airfields include two Microwave Landing Systems (MLS), two TACANS (Tactical Air Navigation System),and three PAPI lights.  There are no Instrument Landing Systems (ILS) in Antarctica.

The FAA will be making flights all week long.

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Filed under Aviation, Pegasus Ice Runway, Sea-Ice Runway, Williams Field

Australian A319 Airbus Video Sea Ice Runway McMurdo Station Antarctica

Today at McMurdo Station Antarctica A-Shift provided ARFF coverage for an Australian A319 Airbus flight.  The plane is a specialized A319 Airbus operated by the Australian Antarctic Program.  The United States Antarctic Program utilizes this aircraft for the movement of passengers to and from Christchurch NZ.  By using a commercial jet in conjunction with the regular C-17 flights from NZ, they can maximize the transport of both cargo and passengers.  We’ll have about nine flights bringing personnel from NZ for the USAP, but we’ll also see it later in the season with members of the Australian Antarctic Program landing here for transport by LC-130’s from the NY ANG to their base camps in Antarctica.

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Filed under Antarctic Fire Dept, Sea-Ice Runway, Video