Thursday, February 07, 2002

Mason woman working in Antarctica: 'It's cold!'




By Nancy Young
Enquirer contributor

        MASON — While Tristate residents can experience Antarctica through a new exhibit and show that opened last weekend at the Cincinnati Museum Center, a 19-year-old Mason woman is living it.

        Erika Hargis is halfway through an eight-month assignment as a firefighter/EMT for McMurdo Station Fire Department on Ross Island in Antarctica.

        Visiting Antarctica was a dream Ms. Hargis first had when she was 14.

        “My Dad's reaction at that time was that I was crazy,” she said in an e-mail interview. “When I passed the interview held in Columbus, they were excited for me and proud that I had accomplished one of my goals so quickly.”

        Ms. Hargis works for Raytheon Polar Services, a Denver-based company with locations worldwide. The job is part adventure, part old-fashioned hard work.

        Ms. Hargis arrived at the end of the Antarctic winter: “My first impression was it's cold! I'd never experienced 94 degrees below zero, of course. I choked as I breathed, and my eyes felt like they dried out immediately. The windows of our bus were frozen and the ice so thick, I got just a glimpse of the outside.”

        Her work involves 24-hour duty followed by 24 hours off, and Ms. Hargis finds both work and leisure time fascinating.

        “We do inspections of buildings in the town. We blow out ice-filled pipes throughout the community so water isn't left lying around to freeze. ... We also do medical evacuations, either transporting patients to New Zealand or bringing them from the South Pole to our medical facility.”

        When they're not working, Ms. Hargis and her colleagues can use a recreational fitness facility, as well as indulge in activities only Antarctica offers.

        “We go dive-tending, where we head out with the divers to dive shacks and help bring up their equipment. We hike up Observation Hill, where we have 360-degree views. We take snowmobiles out to view the scenery.”

        When she returns, Ms. Hargis' first priorities will be to find a full-time firefighting job, obtain paramedic certification and go to college.

        “It's been a privilege,” she said.

       



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