Happy Birthday and a Glycol Spill

Trip Start Dec 18, 2008
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15
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Trip End Feb 17, 2009


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Where I stayed
Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station

Flag of Antarctica  ,
Friday, January 16, 2009

January 16th marked my 23rd birthday, and another ten hour work day.  The day passed uneventfully; the same dishes, cleaning, ancient canned food, and same clock-watching.  Then, right before dinner, there was glycol spill in the second floor of the VMF, right under the Garage roof arch.  Glycol is the fuel which heats the station, and melts water for station use.  This takes a tremendous amount of energy and piping, and I can only assume that is what occupy the plumbers all day.  

 In this case, it was the plumber foreman who had gotten glycol in his eyes, but there were no further exposure cases, and he was fine by the evening.  Though is sounds dramatic, this was actually a pretty tame incident when the alternatives, especially considering it was the only incident at Pole that season scary enough to mobilize the emergency response teams.  

Apparently when Polies arrive at the station for the season, they volunteer for emergency response teams and are given different jobs such as medical, volunteer firefighter, logistics, and communications.  I believe the only people exempt from these teams were Sous-chef Dave and myself, because we were replacement deploys, and missed all the introductory and team building bits.  Being on a team requires you to perform your task as quickly as possible whenever the blaring station alarm was sounded. 

This happened quite often during the season, but the glycol spill was the only real incident this season, which is quite impressive, considering McMurdo's horrid accident rating for 2008-2009 Summer season.  Usually the alarm would sound, and a fake victim would injured or trapped somewhere needing help.  It could be a victim fallen from the second floor Destination Zulu entrance, or a snowmobile accident.  Once a year they run through a mass-casualty drill, though I never got a straight answer on what that drill was supposed to be about.  All I know was the response teams had to drag "bodies" from the accident site.  These drills are supposed to be secret, but word spreads lightning-quick at South Pole, and soon, everybody knows.

 Dave and I, outcast, often took an extra little stretch break and watched the goings on if the accident site was near, or listened in on the kitchen radio if it was too far to visit without being noticeably absent from our kitchen post.  I would really have liked to be part of the charade, though I don't think Dave minded being excluded.

The Glycol spill served to get Laurie, our station Safety Coordinator in a bit of trouble with Denver headquarters, and tucker everyone out.  Dinner was pushed back, and I was left volunteer-less without a shift partner and therefore with twice the dishes.  When I was finally done, my birthday was over, and I was exhausted.  I was soon cheered up by Austin and some well-wishers bearing booze and company.  Just goes to show you can always find drinking buddies at the Pole, any time of day or night!

 I have a feeling 23 is gonna be a good year!
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