Saturday, May 22, 2010

Almirante Brown Fire and SAR drill

Crazy Antarctica story of the week:

In 1984 the station doctor at the Peninsular Argentina station, Almirante Brown, lost it when faced with an imminent Antarctic winter. He set fire to several of the station's buildings as the last ship was leaving. The station had to be abandoned and was later rebuilt. (rebuilt Almirante Brown in photo above).

McMurdo has its own, less dramatic odd doctor story. Rumor has it the 2009 winterover doctor went a little loopy and started keeping to himself and designing spaceships. One of his plans is still making the rounds of the station!

We had a good SAR drill Thursday. After practicing variations on mechanical advantage systems indoors at Scott Base all morning, we headed outside to the Scott Base Road. For most the road's length there's a sharp dropoff on one side. About halfway between Scott Base and McMurdo on the right there is a steep valley into which a Kiwi truck went off the road in Con 1 conditions in recent years. It's a bad drop; fortunately the driver managed to self-extricate and crawl back up the hill.
In another recent Scott Road accident, a real short girl was driving a Nodwell. Nodwells are tracked vehicles that are steered by dual levers, one for each track. You brake by pulling back hard on both levers. This girl started down the hill to Scott Base, only to find that in order to drive she'd pulled her seat so far forward that she couldn't pull the levers back far enough to brake effectively. The Nodwell was heading for the roadside dropoff, and horror of horrors, she gave up trying to stop it and jumped out! The machine and it's compliment of passengers went over the edge and hung up on a pipeline halfway down the cliff. I believe there were some injuries.

Back to our drill. It was dark, naturally, and breezy with a windchill of around -60F. We were pretty motivated to make the drill go quickly. We tossed our dummy victim down the hill. He slid about 40'. Then we set about building a rope system.
We parked our Hagglunds and van 50' apart and built 2 anchors onto the Hagglunds (which was positioned above the victim) and one on the van. The backup line was led through a pulley and secured with a double prussik, then tied, along with the main, to the stokes basket with a double longtail bowline. The main line went through a break bar rack for the lower.
The cold was pretty bitter and I'm definitely still learning how to gear up optimally to be able to maintain dexterity in these conditions. I had chemical heaters, glove liners, and insulated leather gloves, but I still ended up with slow fingers and some good hot aches by the time we headed down the hill. Finally the stokes basket was ready to go, hypo kit and backboard all strapped in. (the hypo kit contains a harness and webbing to secure the pt to the stokes, and a moisture barrier, big down wrap, and tarp to keep them warm. The moisture barrier is actually one of several hundred body bags they ordered after the 1979 Erebus plane crash. Haha, aren't we resourceful?) Four litter attendants roped up with a) a purcell onto the stretcher and b) a purcell onto the main longtail. And down the hill we went.
It was pretty nice once we got over the edge. After 20' or so the wind cut off, and we were moving enough to be pleasantly warm. While we'd been setting up the system, the dummy went ahead and slid another 100' down. We all let the rope take most of our weight and hustled down there pretty quick. Maybe even a little quicker than we would have liked! We strapped up the dummy as the guys up top did a hot swap onto a raising system. I think they had a 3:1 set up between the 2 trucks.
I guess the slope was 65-75 degrees on real loose scree-including large boulders- and deep fluffy snow. The snow was interesting, since there's almost never deep, fluffy snow around McMurdo. It's mostly like rock, and you can saw it into blocks or dig real strong deadmen into pretty easily. But this was fluffy. Crampons are miraculously effective in most snow here, but they would have just been a hazard to the other attendants on this stuff. It would have been a nightmare to try and actually walk up the slope, especially while carrying the pt and eating rocks from the guy directly above you. But, to my delight, after a few feet I found a happy little balance between leaning back on the longtail, and leaning out while balancing my weight off the guy on the other side of the stokes. It was really a hell of a lot of fun, and I walked up the slope like it was nothing. The guys on the rope system, however, were working pretty hard. Every now and then one of the litter attendants would lose that sweet spot and fall, then crawl along unhappily on their knees for a few feet until the rope crew (out of sight on the road above us) stopped to reset the system. Before I knew it, we were over the edge and on the windy road again.
(disclaimer: this post- and this blog in general- is just chock full of real, genuine, Antarctic rumor. This is the one of very worst kinds of rumor and the reader should never fail to take any of it with a grain of salt.)

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