Deploy in 42 days ·

Rothera Winterers 2014 flickr
The winterers for Rothera at the Derbyshire field course.

Every year, all the people who are heading south with BAS attend a predeployment conference in Cambridge. Two weeks ago, it was my turn to make my way to Girton college for a week full of briefings, courses (including oil spill management!), and plenty of meeting really cool people.1 This – the opportunity to work with colleagues from a diverse range of disciplines, converging to produce world-leading science – is perhaps the greatest appeal of working for BAS.

The last two days of the conference were turned over to us as the medical team to run the Immediate Aid course for around one hundred delegates. Rather than the usual First Aid at Work affair, it was a wide-ranging course covering areas including spinal immobilisation through to IM drug administration (using the BAS MkI injection simulator: an orange). The course finished with a variety of moulages, in which I donned a boiler suit and a wrench to take on the role of a carbon monoxide poisoned mechanic, complete with comically overdone red face paint.2

Medical training has always served as a paradigm of apprenticeship, with the current generation of doctors having a vested interest in providing the best possible training to the next. The first aid course provided a particularly frank reminder of this principle, given that the people I was teaching would be my closest medical support for over a thousand miles.

Grubs up flickr
Team Rothera cooks up chilli for 40 hungry folk on the Field Course.

Following the conference, the winterers (i.e. the people going south for 18 months, rather than for just the summer) headed up to the Peak District for the Field Course. Over three days, the Field Assistants3 introduced us to some outdoor skills required for surviving in Antarctica, from basic campcraft and stove use (BAS still uses trusty Primus paraffin stoves!) to navigation and ropework with crevasse drills.4 Whilst the course was ostentatiously intended to train us in these “hard” skills, equally important was getting to know the folks who we’re going to be living and working with for the next year – naturally, best done over a swift ale.

Their drills are bloodless battles, and their battles bloody drills. Flavius Josephus, Jewish historian, on the Roman army

This week, Sophie (Halley doctor) and I will be running the Advanced Immediate Aid course in Plymouth. In addition to the basic first aid training that all Antarctic personnel receive, several people from each station are trained to a higher level, so that they can assist the doctor, or, if circumstances dictate, act as independent practitioners. We’ll be taking a quick dash through Advanced Life Support, basic skills like IV cannulation, suturing, drug administration, monitoring and charting. We’ll also have the opportunity to run some scenarios in Derriford Hospital’s simulation suite, with us working alongside them in the scenario – it’s best if we can make our mistakes together in training before we get South.

  1. Personal favourite: meeting the scientists and engineers behind the Aircraft Deployable Ice Observation System (ADIOS) which are 3m javelin-like probes dropped onto a glacier from a Twin Otter aircraft, hitting the ice at 120mph – and then broadcasting their GPS location via Iridium sat phone for up to 2 years afterwards. Cool. 

  2. I still maintain that the folks in makeup where just a little too generous with their face paint. Regrettably, someone took a photo… 

  3. A BAS job title for mountaineers who are employed to ensure you’re kept safe in the field, and don’t turn out like Scott. 

  4. The field course had its surreal moments too: conducting a search and rescue drill on a moor with 20 of us walking with buckets on our heads (“blizzard simulators”) whilst holding onto a rope was a particularly memorable experience!