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Antarctica 2012: The Furious Fifties, or Preparing for Rougher Days

Incident-Response-Stretcher-Training (2)

We’ve moved below the 50th latitude, into an area cheerfully dubbed the “furious fifties.” We have not yet encountered rough seas on an epic scale, but the swells have increased considerably. I no longer leave anything on my desk, and I now have a great appreciation for the grab bar in the shower, as well as the one next to the toilet. Our ship can reach significant angles given the right combination of waves. As can see in the photo, yesterday was fairly sunny and was rather nice out.

By this morning snow had accumulated on the helideck, a good sign we are getting close to the ice. Although it is snowing, I wouldn’t say it is storming. We have been sailing between a pair of storms that were interacting, but managed to squeeze in just as they were separating. It really is good fortune, even though part of me wanted a real southern storm experience.

Ken and I have been selected for the incident response team based on our previous experience and training. We have received some additional training that will allow us to assist in case someone is injured or breaks through the ice. There are two sets of responders: primary and secondary. Ken was selected to be a primary responder, and I have been selected to be a secondary.

During initial ice surveys two primary responders will keep position at the bottom of the gangplank with rescue gear and dry suits nearby, just in case someone falls through the ice. In this event the two responders will notify other primary responders, and then rescue those that have fallen through.

The other responders will gear up to assist in any rescue effort, and will be available to assist in other activities like CPR and patient transport.

An ice flow breakoff or other large scale incident will activate both primary and secondary responders to aid any voyagers that are stranded or need assistance. I am excited for the additional training these positions provide, and am willing to do whatever work is asked of me. I am excited to see there is a wealth of equipment available in case an incident occurs.

After breakfast we discussed the use of rescue equipment, and did a survey of the tools available to us. In addition to rescue bags, there is a glacial rescue kit, a Rescue Alive travel skid, three stretchers, and a portable inflatable bridge. The Rescue Alive travel skid is essentially two fiberglass floating skids with a frame around them. They look almost like the landing gear you’d see on a sea plane, but a bit smaller. When using the ice travel skid you can hold onto handrails that distribute your weight more evenly onto the ice. If you break through the ice while using one you don’t actually fall into the water, as the bulk of your weight is on the floating skids. It folds up for transport, and comes with a paddle that includes a very sharp claw for pulling oneself over slick ice.

The inflatable bridge blows up from a Breathing Apparatus (B.A.) bottle, the same as a diver would wear. The B.A. bottle connects to the bridge which automatically expands to the correct pressure. The bridge is very stiff, and several people can travel over it at once. This tool is particularly useful for crossing a crack that has developed in the ice. If the crack were to expand and become unstable, the bridge would act as a flotation device, providing an extra measure of safety.

The importance of stabilizing a patient for transport was emphasized. A wounded person is at higher risk for hypothermia, and needs to be bundled up warmly before transporting them inside. We learned how to manage a wounded person into a sleeping bag, and from there how to properly place them in a stretcher or a temporary shelter.

Particular importance was placed upon being thoughtful during incident response. If something catastrophic occurs it is easy to panic and immediately run to aid. If care is not taken the rescuer may require rescue, which is both embarrassing and bad for everyone involved. Every move has to be carefully considered, time must be taken to weigh potential risk, and then an efficient rescue effort must proceed. Much of the training really focuses around ensuring thoughtful decision making precedes the actual rescue effort.

We had an emergency muster drill in which everyone had to dress properly and meet on the helideck as though we were abandoning ship. We were warned in advance that when people do not take this drill seriously everyone is left a little longer out in the cold to reinforce the importance of cold weather gear. Fortunately everyone turned up properly dressed and carrying their red survival packs, so we didn’t need to stay out in the snow very long. I put a few items in my survival bag that are not included, like lip balm, and may even throw a chocolate bar in there. If deserted on the seas I’m sure ANYTHING can be traded for chocolate << insert evil villain laugh here>>. I particularly like the panoramic picture of the muster because you can tell the boat is rocking by looking at the water level change from the left to the right hand side.

Apart from safety drills, I have also now taken a turn helping in the kitchen, which was more fun than I anticipated. The kitchen staff are very kind and are happy to have some assistance. The degree to which I became wet was sure evidence I have never cleaned dishes with a pressurized hose before, particularly as the kitchen staff all managed to stay entirely dry.

Mandatory environmental cleaning took place today after lunch. Antarctica has an ecosystem that has largely been isolated. We carefully vacuumed all of the equipment we are going to take on the ice, and dipped our boots in a cleaning solution. We do this to avoid contaminating the ecosystem with seeds, fungus, or other bio-matter. It is not strictly possible to observe a system without changing it, but it is an important goal and is taken very seriously. This was not a simple undertaking, and required almost two hours for us to finish vacuuming out our clothing and gear. I have always loved Velcro, but remaining free of seeds is not its strongpoint.

I finally made change and attempted to join the iceberg lottery, only to find all the slots were filled. I suppose I should use this as a general lesson in life, and make sure I move on something quickly if it is important. The lottery ran from Thursday to Sunday, and as it is Saturday with no signs of ice over half of the betting population has been eliminated. This apparently has come as a surprise to many of the experienced crew. I’ll make sure to let you know who wins, and I will ask for a photo with the earned “fistful of dollars,” or at least what is left after half is taken out for charity.

On a final note I discussed the theory Christian and I developed to explain the lack of drip coffee with a few Australians and Tasmanians aboard. I was advised that our hypothesis was wrong, and that approximately half of the population drinks coffee with breakfast, rather than tea. I was also advised that I should really be asking for filtered coffee instead of drip coffee, as I had a better chance of being understood. Apparently while filtered coffee was popular here in the 70′s, it essentially disappeared in the 80′s. They said cappuccino machines have become very popular in the last decade, and coffee drinkers are likely to own their own machine, or have access to one at work. I really thought we were onto something, but I suppose that sometimes happens with a good hypothesis. . .