Palmer Fire Team

Photos from UAB in Antarctica group on Flickr, related to this post
By Craig
Posted on 03/12/07

Let me begin by congratulating one reader who recommended “cracker jacks” as a good common name for the amphipod Metaleptamphous pectinatus.  Since these little guys are semi-caramel colored and are, most likely, a tasty snack for other predacious amphipods and fish, I found the name suitable. 

I cannot wait for the next person to ask what I am looking at under the scope, just so I can answer “cracker jacks.”  The bottom picture on the right is a unique amphipod called Paradexamine fissicauda, please send me your thoughts on a potential common name for this organism.

Earlier this week I was meticulously dissecting amphipod guts (more on that lovely activity in the future) when the fire alarm was activated.  I am unsure how much experience our average reader has in microscopy, but having sudden loud noises occur while staring intently through an objective is hardly common practice.  Any guesses what region of my jeans got doused in seawater and recently dismembered amphipods upon being surprised by the alarm?  

Once I recovered from my initial bewilderment, I sat there calculating the odds that the alarm was a drill and that I, therefore, had a little time to clean myself up.  As I sat contemplating my dilemma, I suddenly saw two of Palmer’s fire team making a mad dash for the small staging room by our lab.  This heightened my concern and I immediately headed to the primary evacuation area.

Luckily it was a false alarm (a slight mishap that turned one of the environmental cold rooms into a sauna).  Still I was amazed at the speed and preparedness of Palmer’s fire response team.  Really, fire worries on an Antarctic peninsular station blocked in by a glacier?  After some questioning, I learned that fire is one of the primary emergency concerns in the area.  The dry air combined with high wind speeds makes even the smallest fires an immediate threat to the remote station.  

Tim (one of the fire first response team members and our current waste management supervisor) explained that the entire station has been outfitted and geographically organized for fire prevention.  The buildings are all located away from one another in such a fashion that if one caught fire it would be virtually impossible to spread to another building.    

Similarly, fire doors to prevent mass air passage between areas have been installed to prevent potential fire/smoke spreading to critical locations (dorm areas, desalinization area, combustible chemical stores, etc…).  Fires have always been taken extremely seriously at antarctic research stations.

As a case in point, a fire a few years ago at Rothera (a British Antarctic Survey station located south of Palmer) left a laboratory building in ruins.  The high winds prevented the fire team from doing anything except watching the building burn and making sure the rest of their station was not harmed.  

Each of the six member fire team trained with professional fire fighters at a camp in Colorado and has enacted several potential emergency scenarios dealing with remote areas.  To ensure easy access, each fire team member has two full sets of gear located in different areas of Palmer Station (usually near their work stations).  

Tim, who was gracious enough to remain in his undoubtedly heavy and uncomfortable gear, explained the different pieces of equipment and their functions to me.  Most of the gear is about redundancy, very reminiscent of dry suit SCUBA diving.  Two different communication methods, breathing systems to their SCOT air packs  (similar to SCUBA tanks), locater devices, and fire insulation were all on and operational in a few minutes and they were ready to respond to an emergency.  

I was very impressed with the members of the fire team considering firefighting is not their primary function on station and they had to be just as alarmed as I when the alarm was activated.  However, I did notice none of the fire team was wearing amphipod laced pants.


  1. Re: Palmer Fire Team
    Posted by kim on 03/15/07

    Wow! Sounds interesting and a long way from California!
    Did you finlly get cleaned up?

    1. Posted by Craig on 03/16/07
      Thanks for the reply Kim. They have a full laundry facility here so I was able to clean up my clothes after the fire issues were resolved. Say "Hi" to Rick and the kids for me. See you back in Cali and thanks for the interest in our site. Craig

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