Sign in

From South Pole:

Reveille

Monday, Nov. 14 2011 UTC

Nov. 15, 2011 05:36 NZDT Berthing A4-209, Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station

Fire sled next to refueling pit

Well, that’ll wake you up nice and quick. We just had a fire alarm which went on for long enough to get everyone out of bed and the fire team half-dressed for action. False alarm, apparently.

I’ve had a checkered history with fire alarms here. A few years ago when they were testing out the system, I was on night shift. Of course, testing only occurred during the day. So for about four days I could be practically guaranteed to be pulled out of bed (or at least woken up by the shrieking of the alarm in my room) a couple of times a night. Sleep is a precious commodity at South Pole (altitude and noise conspire to make it challenging for me), and I was not a happy camper.

But testing or no, frequent fire alarms are a fact of life here. Though it may seem counter-intuitive with the cold, the practically zero percent humidity and frequent high winds make fire an ever-present hazard. Couple that with the remoteness of the Station and, well, you take it seriously. If a fire starts, help will not arrive from McMurdo on time, except to collect the injured.

And even that assistance can only come in summer. As I understand it, every winter-over is either on the fire team or the trauma team. There is no “Let’s sit around and let’s see how it plays out” team.

We had a real incident here a few days ago with a glycol spill in the power plant. Fortunately everyone was OK but we had to reduce power consumption for several hours afterwards while they cleaned up and brought everything back online. A similar episode happened a few years ago which resulted in injuries and medical evacuations.

So I’m OK with false alarms.

Now to try to get back to sleep. Morning, all! :-)

(Postscript: beat the odds and managed to sleep a few more hours. Sometimes you’re so tired that you can just sleep no matter what.)