Wednesday, October 8, 2008

So, what exactly am I doing down here, anyway?

One of the (many, many, MANY) strange things about this continent, and this program, is that they actually PAY US to be here. They don't pay us that well, but magically, every two weeks, a small number of dollars is deposited into my bank account. Of course, in exchange for these dollars, they seem to expect me to actually do some work.

My official job title here is "Carpenter's Helper". At least, it was until September 24th, when my old contract ended and my new contract started, which has now given me the title of "Utility Technician's Helper". Which on this station, is the exact same job.

Basically, I am the FEMC (Facilities, Engineering, Maintenance, Construction) department helper, as well as occasionally functioning as a helper for whomever else on the stations needs a hand to do something, or just someone to carry heavy things from point A to B. My job description is quite vauge, and can be summed up as "Do whatever other people tell you to do".

**Term you'll need to understand this next bit: PM/PMing. Preventive Maintenance, or the act of doing preventive maintenance.

In the last month, some of the things I've done would be:
-Help the plumber in the GWR sewer line replacement (being the guy who cuts the pipe and hands him parts)
-Shovel snow
-Replaced air filters and did preventive maintenance (Known as "PMing") on all the air handlers on station
-Shovel snow
-Changed the oil in one of the large Caterpillar generators
-Gone crawling around under the Bio-Lab and the deck to insulate the glycol heating lines run to the chemical storage milvan
-Gone crawling around under the Bio-Lab and the deck to help the electrician run conduit and pull wires for the chemical storage milvan
-Cleaned and PMed all the exhaust fans in Bio-Lab, replacing belts as needed and replacing a burned-out/seized motor
-Shovel snow
-Re-banded the sheet metal coverings on the large water lines that run between the buildings
-Helped inventory the dry food storage milvan
-Replaced a flange and wax ring on one of the men's toilets in GWR
-Chipped a walkway through the large ice berms that have formed in front of the HazBarn and Milvan Row
-Patched the filter housing for the hot tub
-Shovel snow
-Helped the electrician test the various fire detection and alarm systems in the buildings
-Melted and chipped the ice off the evaporator coils in the freezer milvans
-Fix a broken spigot on an eye wash station
-Measured the water flow in the aquarium tanks
-Shovel snow
-Helped with cargo ops on the pier with the logistics team (moving big stuff on and off the ship, -like full milvans and things)
-Shovel snow
-Pull an old, unused vent hood off the side of Bio-Lab, patch and re-insulate the wall
-Helped remove the oil boiler stack from the powerplant
-Do PMing on all the gym equipment
-Insulate and weather-seal cable penetrations in the VLF electronics hut
-Help the boating coordinator move boats around, break ice out from under the floorboards, and other various boating-related activities
-Shovel snow

The other two stations, McMurdo and South Pole, each have small armies of "GAs". General Assistants, people who are paid very poorly to do the lousiest work on the station. When a sewer line under the galley at McMurdo Station burst in the middle of winter, due to the cold everything just froze solid under the building and wasn't noticed for two months. When it finally WAS noticed, it had formed an enormous "Glacier of piss and sh*t", as it was phrased to me. And who was it that had to get under the building and chip away two months worth of mostly frozen, but starting to thaw raw sewage? That would be the GAs.

Palmer isn't big enough to warrant any GAs, but in essence, I fulfill that roll (although I'm paid a good bit better). The more unpleasant or tedious a job is, the more likely I am to be the one to do it.

That being said, I am under the control of the FEMC department, so the vast bulk of my time goes to them. I do all the daily maintenance rounds, going around station every morning and checking various equipment and machinery to make sure everything is still within normal parameters. I also do my best to take care of as many of the routine PMs that I can. Most of the equipment on station, everything from the seawater pumps to the generators to the stoves and kitchen equipment, has various preventive maintenance steps that should be done on either a monthly, quarterly, semi-annual, or annual basis. Most of the time, this involves giving the equipment a thorough inspection, sometimes disassembling and cleaning various components, greasing bearings or moving parts, checking belt tensions, etc.

This week so far, I've done quarterly PMs on the large mixer in the kitchen, the steam sanitizer in the scullery, finished quarterly PM on all of the exhaust fans in the Bio building laboratory, did a monthly PM on the masticators, monthly PM on most of the gym equipment, quarterly PMs on all the air handlers (big fan units that heat the air and move it through the heating ducts in the buildings), and a bunch more that I can't remember. You get the idea, though.

In terms of pay, and rank, I am the lowest rung on the station. But due to the small size of this place, and how shared all the duties are, there really isn't any sort of caste system here, like there is at the other bases (although officially nothing like that exists, I'm told that in reality, you'll rarely see the scientists sitting next to janitors or GAs at lunch at McMurdo)

But I, and actually, most of the people on station, agree that while I don't have the cushiest job, I might have the most interesting. Because my roll is so loosely defined and I don't have many specific responsibilities, I've got a lot of flexibility and am often doing completely different things every week. And while sure, a lot of it is grunt work, I'm never the only one doing that grunt work, I'm helping someone else who's just as involved in it as I am.

When one of the drain pipes froze and burst under the aquarium, sure I spent 7 hours wedged under a building in slushy, dirty snow and rocks, but the plumber and electrician were right there with me.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

OH yeah it's nasty under that part of the station.......