Fire brigade in Antarctica | Polarjournal
The McMurdo Fire Department owns several fire trucks, including this heavy fire truck. (Photo: Michael Lucibella)

In Antarctica, far from civilization, scientists conduct research on a harsh and barren continent. Research stations in Antarctica have existed since the 1950s. Nowadays, there are about 100 facilities. About half of the research stations are occupied year-round, while the rest are used only during the Antarctic summer. Older stations are of simple construction, while newer stations offer everything that simplifies the life of scientists. But they all have one problem in common, namely fire protection. Once a fire has broken out, it is almost impossible to bring it under control. Lack of extinguishing water and usually strong winds help to accelerate the fire.

Two people died in a fire at the Brazilian “Comandante Ferraz Antarctic Station” on February 25, 2012. In addition, 44 people were evacuated by helicopter, while 12 soldiers of the Brazilian Navy remained on the base to try to extinguish the fire. The fire destroyed about 70% of the research station. (Photo: Brazilian Navy)

The largest station in Antarctica is the American McMurdo Station. The year-round facility was built in 1955/56 on Ross Island on the McMurdo Sound coast for the International Geophysical Year and now consists of more than 90 buildings. There is a road network connecting the buildings and research facilities. McMurdo Station also has an airfield located on the sea ice. This can also be used for large transport aircraft to take off and land. There are regular flights to Christchurch in New Zealand. Over 1,000 people work in McMurdo during the summer.

Firefighters Buddy Pearce (left) and Joshua Willard check the amount of water flowing through the hose during a hose test. (Photo: Michael Lucibella)

Many of the tasks that need to be done resemble those of a small town. The McMurdo online newspaper Antarctic Sun took a behind-the-scenes look at the workers and what they do to make science possible at the end of the world.

Even on the continent without trees, fire is a big problem. The dry, windy conditions mean that a spark can quickly get out of control. At the same time, the safety requirements at the station’s airfields necessitate a fire brigade that is available whenever an aircraft takes off or lands. That’s why McMurdo Station firefighters are always ready to respond to emergency calls at a moment’s notice.

At the ‘Pegasus’ airfield is a specially modified pickup truck, converted with snowcrawlers and a tank for extinguishing agents. (Photo: Michael Lucibella)

With a team of about 50 personnel and a unique fleet of emergency vehicles, the McMurdo Station Fire Department is an unusual combination of a municipal fire department and an aircraft rescue and fire service. It is an important department responsible for the safety of persons and property throughout the sprawling station.

Heiner Kubny, Polarjournal

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