Skip to main content

RNZAF fire personnel deploy to Antarctica

Last December New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) Aircraft Rescue Firefighters were deployed to support the United States Antarctic Program.

10 February, 2022

The National Science Foundation (NSF) were experiencing a shortage of Aircraft Rescue Firefighters, resulting in limited support to Williams airfield (ski aircraft only). This was a significant operational issue for NSF as the US Air Force could not approve a waiver for LC-130 (Ski Herc) operations for tasks other than life-safety missions. This effectively grounded the LC-130 fleet in Christchurch, and the NZDF Senior National Officer requested Headquarters Joint Forces New Zealand for support from Air Force firefighters.

The Air Component Commander (ACC), Air Commodore Shaun Sexton approved the support, whereby RNZAF firefighters would supplement the aviation firefighting coverage to allow Williams airfield to open, LC-130s to deploy to the ice, and for key science support flights to take place. Within a few days of the receipt of the request the team entered isolation in Christchurch for 14 days before deploying to Antarctica.

The team deployed were SGT Gordon Munn (Woodbourne), CPL James Aitken (Ohakea), CPL Bailey Campbell (Auckland), LAC Jack Carey (Woodbourne), LAC Alexandra Earl (Ohakea) and LAC Tem Harris (Auckland).

“The team settled in and integrated well with their respective crews. We were split into two shifts working 24 hours, on 24 off. Each shift consisted of an Airfield Rescue and Firefighting (ARFF) crew of eight and a Domestic (town) crew of four, which the team were rotated through,” said SGT Munn.

RNZAF Rescue Firefighters are currently down in Antarctica supporting the United States Antarctic Program.

“Working primarily at Williams airfield we were covering the Air National Guard’s LC-130s, Twin Otter and Basler aircraft. We also stood up crews to provide cover at Phoenix airfield for the RNZAF’s C-130s. The trucks were staffed and prepositioned for every aircraft movement (take-off and landing), with just one local standby emergency for a minor issue with one of the LC-130s,” he said.

The airfield fire appliances include tracked Ford F-550s with dual firefighting agent systems, dual agent sleds which are pulled by various vehicles and pivot steer Chieftain ARFF vehicles carrying 4500L of pre-mix foam.

The domestic town crews staff an ambulance and pump and are kept busy testing equipment and carrying out fire safety inspections along with responding to alarm activations, hazmat spills and medicals in McMurdo township.

“We’ve participated in combined emergency exercises with the Scott Base fire team and the McMurdo SAR team. One of these was a simulated helicopter crash at Scott Base, and another a SAR exercise at Observation Hill, where there was a simulated rescue from a steep embankment with the crew assisting with set-up and abseiling to provide first aid and to rescue the patients.

RNZAF Firefighter teams covered the Air National Guard’s LC-130s, Twin Otter and Basler aircraft.

“Outside work the team have got stuck in with all tasks around McMurdo, including helping to set up the Christmas party and participating in the annual trash collection. We were also lucky enough to get out on a few hikes and see the local wildlife, including minke whales, seals, skuas and penguins, along with some of the historical huts in the area.

“The team really enjoyed their time in Antarctica and conducted themselves in an extremely professional manner, representing the RNZAF and Fire Trade well.

“Thanks to everyone back home who supported this deployment.  This wouldn’t have been possible without help from the hard-working firefighters who covered the bases and airfields over the Christmas and New Year break. They too made sacrifices which allowed this deployment. 

It wasn’t all quiet over the Christmas period: RNZAF firefighters did a fantastic job whilst deployed to the Northland fires for 10 days as part of an NZDF cohort in support of Fire and Emergency New Zealand at this 2450ha, 32km perimeter fire.

The Antarctic Fire Department at Mc Murdo Station, Antarctica