Fire Drills on an Ice Sheet
Jan. 10, 2013
Fires are actually a significant danger at research stations in Antarctica, as strange as that may sound. Since Antarctica is technically classified as a desert due to the lack of precipitation and extremely dry air, the dry air has quite a lot of static energy from our electrical instruments and things shock and spark very easily. In addition, there is no liquid water anywhere on the High Plateau– we have to melt all of our water to drink it, shower with it, etc., which takes a lot of energy from the generators, so there isn’t a lot of extra liquid water lying around, and if a fire started it would be difficult to put it out with very limited water. On top of that, living at a physioaltitude of 12,460ft means that there is lower pressure here than other places on Earth, which makes pumping water more difficult. Since Concordia station is a series of two towers, if a fire erupted on the third floor of a tower it is harder for the water hoses to pump water hard enough to reach such a height.
Because of all of these factors, fire drills and fire safety are a big thing here at the station. Today we did a fire drill simulating a situation where we are all trapped on the third floor of the tower. In this case, Concordia has what in my opinion is the most fun fire escape method ever– we unroll a long, flexible nylon ‘sock’ and jump down it, while it squeezes your body to slow your descent down to the ground. It’s bizarre to jump into a tube on the third floor of a building, but because this is designed specifically for us (don’t try this at home with unofficial materials!!!) it works well to stop us from hitting the ground.