my trip to the Antarctica and the South Pole

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Fire Drill

Fire Drill
Originally uploaded by teenmachine.
There is no such thing as dialing "911" to get an ambulance or fire truck here. We are our own Trauma and Fire Teams. Before I ever left for the South Pole, I went to Fire School in Denver for a week and learned the basics of fire fighting. Other winter-overs went to Trauma school, where they learned the basics of being an EMT. Every person here is part of one of these teams--Trauma or Fire, and of course, we have to keep our skills in practice. With the extreme dryness, static electricity, and construction going on here, it's not exactly fire-hazard free, and a devastating fire could make life here very difficult.

To this end, we have mandated monthly fire drills. These aren't like in grade school where everyone lazily files out of the building and waits on the grass outside. Our drills are full-on mock situations designed by a small group of people and acted out in every detail. They are kept secret from the majority of the station, including even major players such as the doctor. The fire teams get in all their fire gear and SCBA (breathing tank and mask) to do things such as fighting the pretend fire, or pulling victims out of a dangerous situation. Some people's jobs are to get equipment to the scene, and some manage the situation overall, allocating resources and deciding the best course of action. The leader is called the "On Scene Commander" and can be a different fire team member every drill. The trauma team gets practice treating victims by backboarding them, taking vital signs, administering oxygen and/or CPR, and transporting them to medical. If the drill is staged outdoors, this is no easy task. Victims are made up to look like they've been injured according to the scenario, often with makeup, props, or a sign on their body that tells their symptoms. The fire, smoke, or chemical spill is always simulated by signs, tape marking, or pictures. The scene has props that give clues as to what happened and the fire teams must sort them out to help the trauma team figure out what happened to the victims, and thus, what the best treatment is.

The August fire drill showed no lack of creativity despite its timing late in the season. This drill was especially fun because I got to participate in it. The scenario was a new one--involving a chemical spill rather than a fire as the life-threatening situation. Ken and Jim were moving large batteries into the battery storage room when a wrench fell out of Ken's pocket, shorted the terminals of a battery and caused the battery to explode. Ken suffered acid burns and Jim was knocked out by a piece of shrapnal and also had burns. To make his injuries even more real, Jim had an Alkaseltzer so that he could fake "foaming at the mouth." But, the scenario didn't stop there. Sheri heard the explosion and became blinded when she entered the room which was full of airborne chemicals. Kevin heard her scream and realized he shouldn't enter, but was so traumatized that he assumed the role of "On Scene Commander" in a panicked state and began to issue senseless commands to all responders as they showed up. The idea here was to see if fire team members realized that Kevin was unable to be an effective On Scene Commander, and to see how quickly they would take over his post. But, the final kicker in the drill was my role as the "Hysterical Girlfriend." I was to start screaming and freaking out when they brought Ken out of the room completely covered in acid burns. So, I had to be restrained by a couple people. But, true to my assigned role, I didn't stop there. When Ken was finally transported to Medical, I ran into the ward and started screaming at the doctor that he wasn't doing enough for Ken, and I went into where Ken was being treated. The doctor had to assign a person to the duty of keeping me out of the office and only then did I finally give up. It was a hoot.

About an hour after the drill started, things had finally calmed down, the victims had recovered from their fake injuries, and we were holding our "debrief" in the galley. Everyone said I played an excellent hysteric. It was a natural role.



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