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Firefighter Howie

October 14, 2008

MCMURDO STATION, ANTARCTICA– Today I had the opportunity to interview Lieutenant Mosher of the McMurdo Station Fire Department. He gave me a tour of the whole firehouse and showed me all the fire trucks they use. We had a lot to talk about because I was really interested in what separated this Fire Department from all others that we’re familiar with back home. I even got to wear all the gear the firefighters use daily. The real reason was that I really wanted to go for a ride in one of the fire trucks out on a call with them…

Antarctic Fire Department, McMurdo Station Firehouse.

An important distinction that Lieutenant Mosher made was that the firehouse at McMurdo Station is the only one around. This means that here at McMurdo, the men and women who protect everyone who live and work down here have no back up if something serious happens. The fire department is the last line of defense to keep this station running. The firefighters don’t just fight the rare fire that happens, they also know how to make sure the power and heating plants are operational. If those went down in an accident, it would be entirely catastrophic for the entire community.

A drawing on the wall inside the firehouse.

Lieutenant Mosher and I also talked about how the extreme environment effects how the firefighters do things differently down here in Antarctica. Usually, we’re used to firefighters spraying water on fires. Down here, if they did that, the water would freeze so fast, that a really large mess would be made. To combat this, the firefighters put glycol into the water so that it doesn’t freeze. Because the regulations for environmental protection are so stringent here, any water with glycol that is sprayed onto the ground surface, whether snow or rocks and dirt, must be cleaned up afterward. So of course the first priority of the fire department is to keep everyone safe and to address any situation as it comes up. But then, after a fire situation has been completed, they must become a Hazardous Waste Team and remove the contamination by putting the chemical-soaked snow or ground into containers that will be shipped off of Antarctica for proper disposal in the United States.

Many of the vehicles that are used on station closely resemble the fire trucks and ambulances that I’m used to seeing at home. The major difference with these is that they have really big tires and are elevated off of the ground to be able to get through the snowiest of conditions. It’s the other vehicles that were really interesting to me. Some of the trucks the McMurdo Fire Department uses have tracks instead of wheels. These are really useful in really bad weather conditions or when the firefighters have to go up or down really big hills or rugged terrain. The vehicles that the Fire Department uses out at Pegasus Field where the airplanes land are unlike anything I’ve ever seen. These trucks are huge, massive even. They have tracks like a military tank has and are highly articulated so they can maneuver in just about any direction.

A tracked fire truck.

Finally Lieutenant Mosher let me get suited up in all the gear that the firefighters wear. He took me up to the loft of the firehouse where there is a huge storage of clothing in all different sizes. First he had me try on a helmet to make sure that it fit. And little by little, I started looking like a real fireman. It’s very important that this specialized clothing fit just right.

Trying on a helmet.

The clothes that the firemen wear are really heavy because they are composed of multiple layers. And it’s hard to move around in them. One layer is for warmth. Another is fire-resistant. The outside layer defends against tears and rips. It must be really hard to be a fireman and have to carry heavy hoses and all their equipment while wearing these clothes. I think many firefighters, not just here at McMurdo Station, are in very good physical shape partially because of this.

Fitting my firefighter pants.

No firefighter would be complete if they didn’t wear an air tank on their back. The mask on their face not only keeps them protected from the heat of a fire, but it also supplies fresh air to them if they have to run into a burning building. The smoke and fumes from a fire make it very difficult for a firefighter to advance into it if someone is trapped inside and needs to be rescued.

Making sure my air supply mask fits.

When Lieutenant Mosher got me all suited up, from the loft I could see the big garage door open. A truck was coming back to the firehouse! Maybe this would be my chance to hop a ride for the next call. After all, I had all my fireman gear on already.

A truck backs into the garage bay.

As I climbed down the ladder of the loft, I started getting really excited that I would be able to go out with the fire department on the next call.

Climbing down the ladder of the clothing loft.

But then Lieutenant Mosher explained to me that it’s not just about riding around in a big truck. Every fire fighter at the McMurdo Station Fire Department has to help out with all the chores necessary to keep the firehouse functioning. So, wouldn’t you know it, Lieutenant Mosher asked me to sweep the floor of the garage where they keep all the trucks. Of course I agreed because I wanted to experience what it was like to be a firefighter in Antarctica.

Once I was done with sweeping, I again was really thrilled because I thought “Now’s my chance!” But Lieutenant Mosher told me that all the trucks have to get cleaned everyday. And then he said that once a week, the trucks get an extra special cleaning, and that today was the day! So he handed me a bucket of soapy water and a sponge and off I went to scrub the trucks down. The other firefighters who were around the station house at the time thought it was really funny that the “newbie” was doing their job of making sure everything was clean and tidy.

My chance finally came. After I finished my chores, I was able to get on a truck and go out on a call.

Full gear on and ready to go out on a call with Lieutenant Mosher.

I want to thank Lieutenant Mosher for taking of his time to spend with me to answer my questions about how the McMurdo Station Fire Department is different than other stations back home. It was a nice treat to be able to experience what it’s like to be a firefighter in Antarctica, and I have the utmost respect for the men and women who put their own lives at risk to keep all of us safe on station.

Stay tuned….a video of my day at the McMurdo Station Fire Department will be coming soon!

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7 Responses »

  1. Hey Howie,

    WOW! Being a firefighter in Antarctic must have been great fun. You must have had a great time.

  2. Very cool! I was a lieutenant with the Antarctic Fire Department for several seasons. My first season was 2000-2001, then 2001-2002 and finally Winfly/summer/winter of 2003-2004. I now work for the Columbia Fire Department in Columbia, MO. It was a great experience and I hope to go back some day.

  3. Howie, interesting article on the fire station there.I was wondering is it possible to get a duty-shirt from the station there.If yes how much would it cost a person.I am not a firefighter,but by nephew was for 10 months before he died on the line of duty back in 2002.

  4. Yeah a fantastic place! I only spent a few months out at Williams Field during the 83-84 season but those memories shall remain forever! A great bunch of guys! They treated this ‘kiwi’ well! Thanks guys! Would love to get back some day!

  5. How does EMS work there? Do they have a paramedic on call all the time?

  6. Hey Howie, Greta input. My nephew, Scott Beu, arrived on the 6th for firefighting duties. I am a retired US military Veteran, specializing in military secirity. My son is on his second tour of Iraq, and now my nephew is down south. Family is kinda spread. Hey, any security jobs down there? Funny, I’m too old. Anyway, thanks for the vision you described so I can now have a fixture of what he is going to be doing. Agagian, Thanks. Norman Poppell

  7. Greetings & Salutations,

    My name is John Paul Goede. I am a retired United States Air Force Firefighter. I participate in a bi-weekly radio show that has a growing listening audience from many nations and many continents. The radio program is a spin-off of the worlds #1 largest conspiracy related website, but mixes a diverse style of music with a humorous and entertaining panel of laymen as well as professional specialists from various fields of study. I am not advertising the radio show, and outside of being a listener and fan of the show do not represent them or their affiliations. I am only efforting to get someone from Antarctica to provide a hit on their websites’ global indicator as a prank for a member of their panel, a retired marine, police detective, and businessman from South Carolina named Garth (aka Semperfortis). He is also a highly respected forum moderator. The website for this radio show is here:

    I know this may sound unorthodox, and am sure you have obligations and responsibilities that keep you busy. I am only wanting a second of your time on at least one Saturday during broadcasting, and am not pandering on their behalf for new listeners. I sincerely feel this would boost some moral for the people who are efforting to make a social difference through this show.

    Thank you for what you do, and the difference your research and logistical support makes in the world. Please bundle up and stay warm, and take care of eachother down there.

    Thank you for your time,

    Sergeant John P. Goede, USAF Firedog (retired)