7.0 FIRE PROTECTION, DETECTION AND PREVENTION "Fire prevention and control are problems of greatest importance in polar regions and are more critical than in temperate regions, because the loss of facilities and material during extreme low temperature periods constitutes a major threat to the survival of personnel" (US Dept. of Navy Engineering Facilities Command, 1975). Many factors combine to make a fire a major hazard in Antarctica. The air in Antarctica is very cold and dry - fire burns better due to the low humidity. Furnishings and structural components also having low moisture content and are therefore more combustible. It requires special procedures and a large amount of thought and power to keep large quantities of water in a liquid state for fire fighting in such low temperatures. Escape from buildings is also sometimes restricted by accumulation of snow drift around blocked doorways. 7.1 Design Philosophy Considerable attention to fire prevention and protection has been undertaken in the design of the Australian Antarctic stations. As noted earlier the burial of stations by snow and ice as is allowed by other nations such as the U.K., U.S., and South Africa and the Australian Wilkes station. This was seen as an unsafe practice due to the risks incurred in the case of fire. Careful orientation of buildings with regard to wind direction and building placement with attention to snow drift accumulation has resulted in clear doorways for escape in case of fire. Some stations such as the New Zealand Scott Base are a collection of interconnected buildings. It was thought important by Australian designers to separate the buildings for several reasons including for fire protection. If an isolated building catches fire, the fire has less chance of spreading. Building separation has resulted in stations which are quite spread out. This has been criticised as making stations look messy and creating more damage to the natural environment. The reasons behind the site layout which as well as fire protection include habitability issues and control of snow drift justify any disadvantages caused by building separation. 7.2 Detection and Control Systems Within habitable buildings fire warning systems are installed, there are smoke detectors in all areas critical to survival such as bedrooms and thermal detectors throughout. Buildings are separated into fire zones by fire isolated stairwells and fire wall barriers. Service plants and medical quarters are isolated and sleeping quarters are broken up into separate zones. Smoke doors and fire doors are installed in accordance with Victorian Building Regulations. Fire escapes are also in accordance with Regulations although escape doors do not open outwards as is advised. All doors in the Australian Antarctic stations open inwards because of the risk that snow accumulating against the door will block exits. In high wind conditions a door opened outwards can be blown off its hinges completely. All internal doors are solid core timber for fire isolation. Fire is more likely to be started internally and policy is to evacuate buildings and use fire fighting equipment to contain the fire and hopefully save the structure of the building. Most buildings have either wet or dry sprinkler systems others have halon flood fire suppression systems. Water for the sprinkler system is stored in a centrally located heated tank house. It is reticulated through insulated and heat traced pipework. Care is taken that service main are not laid under buildings to facilitate maintenance and avoid loss of mains from destruction of one building. 7.3 Combustibility of Materials Non combustible building materials such as concrete are not practical for use in Antarctica for economic and logistical reasons and are also unsuited to construction in the climate. The polystyrene foam core used in the panels of the Australian buildings is treated with fire retardant. The panels will melt if a flame is against them but will not ignite. To reduce the potential for damage to external wall panels two layers of 13mm thick gypsum plasterboard lining which has a nominal one hour fire rating is used for all walls and partitions. Ceilings are also two layers of gypsum plasterboard attached to a metal ceiling suspension system or screwed direct to internal 'purlins'. 7.4 Fire Fighting Fire hose reels, hydrants and extinguishers are installed throughout the buildings in accordance with the advice of the ACS Fire Safety group and Australian Standards. Fires which begin outside the buildings are fought with special over snow vehicles called Hagglunds, fitted with fire fighting equipment. These are stored in Emergency Vehicle buildings with other fire fighting gear. Internal fires are also fought through openings like windows or doors or access cut for the purpose through external panels. Fire hydrants are also installed around the station for external use. Each station has a fire officer and all personnel are trained in fire fighting in Australia before departure. Regular drills are undertaken and checking by the Antarctic Division and fire officers is undertaken to ensure good housekeeping is being maintained. Standards of safety have been kept as close as possible to those in Australia. 7.5 Assessment of Fire Prevention and Control The lengths taken to ensure safety are warranted when considering the location of the station. If there was a large fire and many buildings burnt down the expeditioners would suffer considerable difficulty. Although every effort would be made by the authorities to safeguard the lives there is considerably more risk to life in Antarctica and any means of reducing such risks should be used. The Review Committee reported that "the building services fire protection system solutions are cost effective and not overly complex. They generally meet the clients brief and perceived needs are appropriate" (Harrop, 1985 p. xi).