Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Emergency Response Teams

Considering the number of alarms, false and real, that we have had recently, I've decided to make a post in regards to what we do in the instance of emergencies.  The emergency response is similar in a lot of ways to that of Palmer, but the biggest difference is the role of "emergency response teams" (ERTs).

At Palmer, most everybody is assigned to a team (pump, fire, trauma, etc.), but there is also an overlap with the search and rescue teams (glacier SAR, ocean, you name it).  My role during emergencies at Palmer was to take over for Mike, our chef, with getting a full muster.  Mike was on the trauma team as well as in charge of muster so by having me take over muster, he could be available for the trauma team much sooner.  It was a simple job that essentially meant that I had to listen to radio traffic to hear people call in their locations as well as count people in our muster location.  Another part of that role was to dispatch personnel to the scene if necessary to help out the teams.  Because for a large part of the winter season we only had 19 to 21 people on station, this meant that all extra hands were accounted for.

At the Pole, we are assigned to a team 1-4 with a few extras being placed additionally onto a special technical rescue team (team 5) in the event we have to capture a body or patient in a crawl space or on top of a high structure.  As a brief rundown of the teams, here are their roles:


  • Team 1:  First Responders - this team goes to the scene immediately to check out the situation and send any information back to the station and the emergency operations center (EOC aka Wayne)
  • Team 2:  Fire Brigade - the name is obvious I think;  they are responsible for donning bunker gear to attack a fire on station;  most of those on this team have been to fire training school in Aurora, CO this past year, but Jason is the lone exception as he has been on the team in the past and therefore been to fire school in the past
  • Team 3:  Logistics - this is my team;  we are kind of a catch all group where our role is to supply equipment to all of the other teams, transport personnel to/from a scene via snowcats (LMCs), and package patients for transport;  we are also in charge of running a search and rescue mission in the event of a missing person;  we supply extra hands if necessary for mass casualties and other such events
  • Team 4:  Trauma - again, pretty self explainable;  this team is run by the doctor and PA and they train their teammates on essentially being emergency room assistants;  many on the team have outside training in healthcare such as being an EMT or working in trauma in the military
  • Team 5:  Technical Rescue - briefly described above, they train to retrieve people from spaces that require specific gear for the safety of the rescuers;  such spaces are on top of the power plant arch, within the confines of the water tanks in the power plant, under the fuel tanks in the fuel arch, and within the subfloor of the station


We were assigned to our ERTs by Wayne at the beginning of the winter season.  While I have healthcare experience being in pharmacy school and whatnot, Wayne has opted to make me a team 3 lead instead of placing me on team 4.  Team 4 already has quite a few members, and I work in the logistics department so it makes sense to have me be responsible for that team.  My experience at Palmer also makes me a bit more qualified for this role as a lot of their duties go hand in hand.  Jason got stuck on team 2 this year as he's been on the team in the past.  From what I gather he doesn't mind too much, but being beardless means a cold face so that bums him out.

In the event of an emergency, the fire alarms and strobes are supposed to go off to signal the situation.  An automated message about the location of the alarm will play on replay as well so people know where to go.  Wayne gets on the all call PA system and radio soon after to let us know that we are to respond to this alarm.  As a team 3 lead, I am required to report to the scene as well as deal with other team lead issues (schedule and host trainings, advocate for my team in meetings).  Each emergency and training is unique in its own way of course so how we go about attacking the problem will change.  

Off hours, we have an on call schedule for the teams.  Each team is separated into an A team and a B team, and the team on call (A or B) switches off every two days.  The schedule for being on call is posted on the South Pole intranet and the galley scroll.  The rules for being on call vary from team to team, but Kim and I (both the team 3 leads) have decided that if you are sober enough to carry a fire extinguisher and respond then you are good to go for the emergency response.  Some seasons being dry for your on call nights was a requirement, but we are a bit lax this year with understanding that one or two beers/glasses of wine likely won't ruin the ability of our teammates to respond to an emergency.  During the day, however, A/B designations don't apply;  we should in theory all be up and awake so we all should be able to respond to the alarm.

ERT can be hectic at times as we run around trying to deal with threats, drills, and alarms, but it is an important part of living on station.  We are far and away from any kind of outside support so it is absolutely imperative that we maintain our life sources here - water, fuel, and power.  Our efforts help us to protect those sources and each other.  My only complaint so far is just one of discomfort;  I don't want to go outside to respond to an out-building alarm in the middle of the night should the event occur!  So far so good, and I'm glad that I have such a great and responsive team this year :) 

That being said...no more night alarms please.  I like getting a full night's rest when possible.