Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Last Pegasus operation of spring!

Fun and exciting new challenges of yesterday's shift:

Cpt, myself and another firefighter took Scat (Ford pickup with very big wheels and a lift) and Red 6 (4 yr old Ford pickup with the misfortune to be fitted out with large tracks which it was never designed to handle) out to Pegasus airfield at 1000 to find out how the ARFF rigs weathered yesterdays storm. The ARFF complement for the day was to be Red 1 (Challenger), and Red 3 and Red 6 (Renegades). These trucks really need pics to do them justice, so I'll leave explanations for after I get a new camera battery...
There were still a lot of funny winds present on the way out. We drove over several miles of Mcmurdo Sound sea ice. The first foot or two of air above the road was clouded with streamers of snow blowing northwest in the ~30mph winds, but the air cleared halfway to Pegasus when we entered the lee of the distant White Island. Driving conditions were better than usual; apparently the wind had swept most of the soft drifts off the road and we didnt get bogged down as much as on previous trips.
We beat Red 6 out to the airfield, but moments after we arrived 6 called us back to assist them with "engine trouble". The sea ice road took on a surreal quality on the trip back. The sun was ahead of us, and in the extreme cold it was framed by the pinks and greens of high nacreous clouds. Pegasus is on clear, hard snow, out of the lee of White Island. Soon after we turned back, the island's lee became visible again as a two clearly demarcated walls of wind on either side of a several mile-wide section of calmer air with dark, still snow underneath it. We entered the wind shadow and weaved and shimmied through the drifts while 100' high snow-devils were born out of the eddies at the edges of the lee and raced onto the road before and behind us. To our right the ice shelf stretched south, bright with curling foglike tongues of airborne snow.
We reached Red 6 and were informed that it had made a 'loud bang, shuddered, and lost all forward motion'. With drive shaft intact, forward and reverse motion spontaneoulsy reestablished, and no fluids leaking, we decided to resume the drive out to Pegasus.
Once there I was assigned a check on Red 3, and promptly made the mistake of thinking the truck was all set because there was little drifting around it and the radiator was clear in front. After checking the rest of the truck I popped the hood and found that every last inch of the engine compartment, from axle to hood, was firmly packed with fine snow. Half an hour of digging and an hour of quality time with a Herme heater later, Red 3 started up and ran just fine. Drove her around on her Matt tracks (which maneuver nicely compared to the larger Grip Tracks on her cousin Red 6) so the water dripping from the engine compartment wouldnt freeze them up. She went well and is probably our most reliable ARFF rig. She carries a big box in back with 4 large nitrogen cylinders that flow agent to a preconnected 1 3/4" line, a booster reel, and a remotely controlled turret in front.
Cpt checked Red 1. It started (!!!) but when he opened the package there was a 6" deep pool of foam from a small leak that had been going for the 3 days that Pegasus was inacessible. The rig was also semi-buried by several feet of very hard drifted snow. Thus began a ballet of mechanics, plumbers, and firefighters shoveling and shuffling trucks, all rushing to beat the 1330 estimated arrival time for the day's C17...
Red 2 (the other Challenger) was brought out and made it all right. Red 3 thawed and ran. Red 6 made it to the airfield a little behind us, and after the mechanics looked at it they informed us that other than the transmission, brakes, steering pump, turbo system, low nitrogen cylinders, and a blown suspension airbag, then truck was good to go. We dug out Red 1 most of the way and she rolled the rest of the way. Cpt fixed the leak, but Red 2 was primary for the operation.
The wind died down a little in the afternoon, but I proceeded to bet that the plane would boomerang (ie circle and head back to Christchurch without landing). It landed in the ~25mph gusty crosswind. I now owe Lt D. one Tui beer. Landing, offload, takeoff without incident, other than a D-6 (?) dozer had taken the place of our mail on the flight...
That evening Red 1, Red 2, and Red 6 all made their way back to the island without incident (I think). After dinner we (the original crew of sufferers from Pegasus that morning) spent 3 or 4 lovely hours at the Vehicle Maintenance Facility in the back package of Red 1 chipping foam from around hoses, tubes, and wires and from difficult-to-access spaces beneath tanks and machinery on the floor. Red 1 does not smell very good when warm. Sometime around 0100 everyone turned in, all machinery having been returned to a semi-functional status.
Strangely, this was a pretty fun day, foam chipping and all. Not an unusual day; its pretty representative of how quickly equipment breaks down out here. Antarctic remains all that I hoped... now for three days off of reading, writing, and playing the market.

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