Scott Base staff trained how to fight fire on Ice

Nelson firefighter's visit to Antarctica

ANNA PEARSON
Last updated 15:25 06/11/2012
Scott Base
DRY CHALLENGE: Scott base staff train for a fire emergency in conditions under which even a simple evacuation for a fire drill requires donning protective gear.

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Extreme dryness, water at risk of freezing and sub-zero temperatures make firefighting in Antarctica a unique challenge, and a Nelson man has been making sure Scott Base staff are up to the task.

Paul Manson, a senior trainer for the New Zealand Fire Service, spent nine days on the Ice last month with a Timaru colleague.

Mr Manson and Bob Mortimer were responsible for firefighter and emergency response training with Scott Base staff.

All staff, from cooks to electricians, also spent five days training in Christchurch with Mr Manson, Mr Mortimer and half a dozen other fire-service trainers, before heading to Antarctica.

Mr Manson said half a dozen staff were on fire duty at any one time on the base, with watches that rotated each week.

It was the first time he had been to the ice, and he said it was a privilege to go there as a trainer.

"I have always wanted to go [to Antarctica]. It's such a unique environment and an amazing place. We [Mr Mortimer and I] got out and about and had a look at a couple of the old historic huts. One of the big things that we noticed was the white. Everything is white and the deception of distance was huge," he said.

The staff did "an intense week" of training in Christchurch, including battling a live fire in a container, and scenario-based training on the ice.

"We just give them another tool in their toolbox to deal with any emergencies that might arrive.

"I have to give Antarctica New Zealand credit for the personnel they select. They have had minor events in the past, and they have been dealt with really quickly by the fire crews. It's all about prevention. Scott Base is looked after by an excellent fire system with sprinklers and smoke alarms throughout the building."

The base was also decked out with breathing apparatus and fire hydrants with access to warm water, to prevent it from freezing in the hoses.

The environment posed other unique challenges. "While we were down there it was between minus 38 and minus 24 degrees Celsius. If you evacuate a building, people have to have enough PPE [personal protective equipment] on, otherwise they will get very cold very quickly, and firefighters have to make sure they have enough gear. It's extremely dry there. If anything ignites or catches fire, it could cause a fire to spread very quickly."

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