chilling feet

chilling feet

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Firefighter Training for the South Pole

It is finally time to stop talking about the Arctic. Let's talk about the Antarctic, or rather getting ready for the Antarctic.

When Sarah and I were talking about her going to Antarctica the first time she mentioned there is a secondary team everyone is required to be on, such as Trauma, Fire team, and a few others.  She is in charge of the trauma team as the doc and in that role would plan out certain rescue exercises should anything happen.  Basically really cool stuff where she would plan out a person needing rescued in certain areas on the base.

I think even back then Sarah knew she needed to get me on the fire team so I would not be able to grow one of the fiercest beards the South Pole had ever seen.  She claims this was not a motive but we all know it had to be part of it.

As it turns out she did not have to work too hard to sway me, even when I knew the truth about the facial hair commitment.  For a few years now I have felt the low deep burn from having never served the country.  The short side of the story was me deciding not to be a chaplain in the military for a few reasons, but mostly because they are not allowed to carry any firearms. Apparently I am the opposite of the guy from the movie that just came out, Hacksaw Ridge.  There were a few other reasons I never joined the military and so I would ponder what it might look like to be a police officer or fireman. As I lost a little bit of time working and living I began to paint a picture in my mind of living in a small town where I could serve as a volunteer fireman while working at a local church.

Then came the question for what training I wanted to do for the South Pole - trauma or fire school?  An easy question to answer, for both of us! Sarah had already done the trauma training and they allowed her to go through fire training as it is always good to have more people trained to fight "the" fire should it ever rear its ugly head down South.

So we headed from Guam to Denver for team training and then fire school - well two weeks of fire training we called fire school.  I do not want anyone to be confused by what we were trained to do or what we think of ourselves.  We are not firefighters and have not done even an ounce of the real training, but we did go through a shotgun training school quickly and learned a lot of helpful things.

The first few pics are from the weekend after our team training in Denver, which was fun by the way. Once finished we had a chance to head out and see Rocky Mountain National Park.  Beautiful!  The weather was quite nice and we were able to see a decent amount of the park in a very short time. Vistas peering out over golden valleys - climbing to the top of spectacular trails that offer a brisk view of mountains as far as the eye can see - seeking out the mighty Colorado river where it is still just a tiny brook we could wade through in my Chacos and then sit by peacefully listening to its silent beginning - then catching Sarah trying to get a quick nap on the the side of the parking area. All very nice and highly recommended to anyone going that way.

Our friends +Austin Russell and the now Alli Russell were out there on their honeymoon, which was amazing as we sadly had to miss their wedding.  Dinner with them and trying not to feel like we were stepping wildly into their private week was both fun and we felt beyond grateful to them for including us in their special week.

Then FIRE SCHOOL!! The moment we were so excited about had finally arrived and it did not in any way at all disappoint.

First of all, trying on our gear was as anyone would imagine it might be for a ten year old boy who wants to grow up to be a fire fighter, which clearly described almost every person putting on gear.  Well maybe sometimes I project my own inner ten year old on those around me.  I have been told that there are moments I think I am sharing with everyone around me only to find out I was the only hollering idiot full of excitement.  +Bryan Baddorf  still claims I was the only one in the theater hooting with excitement and shouting wildly "I've been waiting for this my whole life" when Yoda busted out his light saber to fight Count Dooku. Just as then I think at least a few of our team were as innerly jazzed as I was to be putting on the gear.

The training was informative, thorough, dangerous at times (but not if we did what we were told to do), and absolutely fantastic! We got some hands on training with various types of fire extinguishers and putting out live fires with them. We were given ample opportunity of time in our gear so we could come to understand what it really felt like to work in such heavy attire.  Our instructors made sure we also had various chances to do exercises on our air so we would know how it mentally and physically effected us in moments of stress.

Then there was the smoke and fire.  It's sort of a good thing to understand what the heat feels like when it reaches the temperatures it does during a real fire.  It is beneficial to see what it's like to be blinded by smoke while you're crawling through a dark room looking for a human being.  Can you imagine doing it for the first time when it really matters?

The confusion and stress felt is considerable.  I felt this the most when we were doing an exercise in full gear climbing through a training unit designed to help a firefighter learn how to crawl and work through small areas. In all of the gear my body overheated quickly and I had to force my mind to calm down and stop breathing so hard. I was finding breathing on the air almost impossible, as if I could not get enough. I found it more difficult to crawl through the confining and narrow obstacles than through smoke and fire. A truly great exercise.  I did not try it in complete darkness as Sarah did - yes she is still the boss and takes names no matter what she is doing.

Surely I have not felt the reality of what we might feel running into a real fire looking for real people, but the training gave us an inkling of some of what we will feel. The fire fighters who do this constantly and practice for years, not just two weeks, learn the muscle memory and hone the skills they need to stay calm under the insane stress that comes from the circumstances of running into a fire.  Our small dose of this training only gives me a higher respect for the men and women who give their lives to fighting fires.

One of my professors from seminary spent some time as a chaplain for local fire fighters.  As part of his responsibilities he would find himself standing a the scene of a fire to offer whatever support he could to the firefighters and families. When he would stop to describe the sort of scene he would watch at a fire he would get an admirable look of distant haze about him as he would say, "It is an odd thing when one sees people pouring out of a burning building.  Looks of distress as they search for safety.  Yet stranger still to witness other human beings running into the way of danger while everyone else is running in the opposite direction."  

Our training was memorable and while I hope I never have to use it, I am so much more equipped to deal with fire hazards now than I was before.  As our site manager for the year at the South Pole said, "I will never look at a fire extinguisher the same again," I have found myself thinking the same thing. And it is true.  We arrived back in Guam and I could not help but to see what type of extinguishers we had on hand.  Our training also offered us some hours spent in the classroom learning about fire behavior and how to handle the different types.  These sessions were illuminating and crazy informative.

The rest are some pictures and a video or two at the bottom, all with a comment or two about them.  Go hug a firefighter and thank them for what they do!


We practiced throwing our gear on as fast as possible - classic firefighter skills. How fast can one get dressed into their gear and jump on a truck or run into a fire? Sarah made it into the top four of our group.  I gave it a few attempts but was still only one week out from gall bladder removal.  I used that as an excuse a few times but it was real and I was told no exercise.  I broke that rule a few times but only in the hope to learn vital information.
One of our instructors teaching us how to rescue another firefighter.
After our entry into the fire or smoke exercises we would do a recap to talk about what we did right and wrong or didn't even think about.

As in the photo above, they took us in one of their practice hallways to see what it would be like to experience a flashover.
One of our instructors and Sarah laugh.  I love this photo because our instructors were a mixture of business and fun. When they needed to be serious they were firefighter serious. When it was time to laugh they did so heartily. What a great group of men and women of Aurora Fire Department in Colorado.

In the first video we got to use a giant rolling chem extinguisher which is similar to the kind we will have down in Antarctica. Each of us got to unroll the hose, turn it on, test it and then go put out a fire with it.  Watch this video see the power of this beast.  And that's Sarah on the hose ready to help if something goes wrong. Super cool. The second video is from when we were watching the flashover and it is also super cool.
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Thursday, November 10, 2016

More Polar Bears - Last Arctic Post


A final post to sum up our Arctic traveling. There may be a post or two in the future about specific experiences from these trips, but for now here is the summation of our Arctic voyage. This will be slightly shorter than previous posts as it is time to be done. Click anywhere to read the last post.

Our first trip came through the Northwest passage from the Canadian Arctic over to Greenland. The second trip was much shorter and started in Greenland taking us just to the edge of the Canadian Arctic. The first pic shows Sarah's first kayak in Arctic waters.
In between trips we went with the Quark staff for a fun kayak and zodiac rescue training.

Our short kayak in some really beautiful waters on an almost perfect day gave way to the zodiac training. I was looking forward to this but it was way more fun than I thought it would be. The training was specifically designed to teach the staff how to rescue people into zodiacs, especially when wearing the life jackets Quark uses as they are unique. We learned at least eight ways to get people into zodiacs and even how to get ourselves back in should there be no one to help. Really cool knowledge to have!

The new passengers embarked at Kangerlussuaq and we worked our way North along the Greenlandic coast toward Sisimut. You can see from the picture above how practiced a mustard drill, learning where we should go if an emergency took place on the boat. Then a nice pic from the sunset that night, a nice sign of the beauty we would see on this trip.


We arrived at Sisimut the next morning. This is a beautiful little town with a landscape of houses in myriads of colors, rolling hills of equally fantastic scenic attributes, and especially nice people. Such an
interesting history and cool culture. We were able to taste many of the foods the natives of this area have been eating for hundreds of years. Just small portions but we did try each one they offered us. Not our acquired tastes but it was nice to experience their hospitality.

Once back on the boat we celebrated the birthday of one of the Quark staff, Dave. It was fun sitting with folks who have become close friends through traveling the world's polar regions together. Nothing like sharing a dinner with good folks.

Then it was back to Ilulissat, one of the most ice-filled paradises Sarah and I have ever visited. This visit offered more amazing views of icebergs, more whales, and yet another fantastic visit to the community there. This time when we saw the whales one of them was resting on the surface, taking a little cat nap I suppose. This time we were able to send off a few postcards while we were in town with a post, we
did a little bit of shopping, and enjoyed quite a nice coffee at a local shop. We also bought some sweet Danish coffee we have been drinking this week in Guam. After we left we had a fabulous dinner on deck to enjoy the wonderful view of icebergs.

When we left Ilulissat it was back across the Davis Straight towards the Canadian coastline. This time I was ready with the perfect motion sickness combination and was able to enjoy our entire day at sea. Sweet. Our evening ended with a fun party, but this time

a Welcome to Canada instead of Welcome to Greenland.  Different games, still red and white colors, and other silliness personified by sea swaggering goofiness. The pictures illustrate the fun times.

Can anyone say the word Qikiqtarjuak? Because that is the name of the next community we visited as we came out of the Davis Straight. Out of all our visits this was the only place that did not just overflow with crazy happiness when our boat of yellow-coated travelers descended upon this little community. Can you blame them? They were still great but they were not doing the happy dance.  A wonderfully peaceful town settled at the base of some hills near the water. While we were visiting I discovered some apple cinnamon cheerios and of course bought them as I had not seen any for years! Don't worry I checked the date on the box.

After hiking around town, visiting one of the local churches, and enjoying a beach with ice washed up onshore - it was super cool to walk down a beach with ice washed onshore - we zodiac-ed back aboard the boat to head for Sunneshine Fjord.

Can you name a place something better than Sunneshine Fjord?  Not only did it have a sweet name but it came with the opportunity to

jump off the boat and go for a hike. I was with the chargers who basically hike without really stopping to look at anything (seriously we missed an Arctic fox), and we busted our move up the mountain. What a great hike!   We kept trying to get to the ridge to look into the vast Arctic expanse but many false summits only led to more hills rolling off into the distance. So we turned back with downtrodden faces and left defeated. Next time mountain, next time.


In the evening we explored the fjord a little bit further in to see three different glaciers all depositing into one fjord! Not only were we in a fjord where maybe no one else had ever been, or maybe in a really long time, but as we explored one of our Quark experts spotted blows from some walrus. Walrus! One of the three Arctic creatures we kept looking for but who kept eluding us - narwhal, beluga, and

walrus. Sarah and I spotted the blows but we never saw any tooth walkers (as they are called at times) above water - argh. It was still pretty neat as now I know how to recognize them when they are hiding and only come up for a little bit of air. Crazy hiding walrus.


Well we did not see the walrus but the next day when we went to Cape Mercy we did see this... a female polar bear swimming in the water!!  Two of our zodiacs
were exploring and came upon a female polar bear backstroking through her own little cove. That's what they said anyway. By the time we got there she was swimming normally, looking at us, deciding what we were and what we were doing, and then swimming some more. Then she got out of the water and wandered off to her happily ever after.
Later as we were getting ready for a hike some bears wandered up on the other side of some water. Our zodiacs all came back to haul us off to complete safety but not before we got to see this magnificent momma bear and cub! Look at those beautifully fat and healthy looking specimens. Wow. This photo was shared with us by another traveler.


After seeing some awesome bears again I want to just end this post with while everyone is happy and thinking about polar bears. There is one more photo from beautiful Pangnirtung and then another up close shot of the female bear. Our little jaunt off into the Arctic was over and it was time to head back to Guam. Please go if you ever get a chance (to the Arctic or to Guam but especially the Arctic)! It is a magical wonderland of amazingness and awesome.



Our trip ended with a trip up the fjord past Pangnirtung. Look at those amazingly still waters and picturesque mountains!

There is a link at the bottom with more photos - including more polar bears and great landscapes. Make sure and take a look at the awesome pic a fellow passenger took of one of the bears.