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Firefighter in Antarctica

  • John Orsulak of Nesquehoning poses next to the Welcome to Mcmurdo Station sign in Antarctica.
    John Orsulak of Nesquehoning poses next to the Welcome to Mcmurdo Station sign in Antarctica.
Published April 06. 2010 05:00PM

John S. Orsulak of Nesquehoning not only visited Antarctica but he lived there from Sept. 17, 2009 to Feb. 10.

Along the way he spent two weeks at Denver Airport receiving training for his new job.

In July of 2009 he applied online for a position as a firefighter advertised in Antarctica and was chosen as an alternate. That alternate position turned out to be a full-time position and soon Orsulak was jetted away.

He works for the Bureau of Forestry D-18 for nine months and is laid off during the winter months. Finding the job online sounded exciting to Orsulak and he discussed it with his wife, Crystal, who is a teacher in Lehighton. They have two children, Cody, 4 1/2, and Morgan, who is almost 2.

"I would never have done if I thought Crystal couldn't handle being alone with the two children," he explained.

Visiting with family on the Internet helped a lot and on Christmas Day, Orsulak was able to watch the kids open their Christmas gifts through the use of their web cam.

Working for the Bureau of Forestry (Department of Conservation and Natural Resources) for the past five years has gained Orsulak a lot of experience. He is also an EMT, which is a prerequisite for obtaining the job. He is also a member of the Nesquehoning Fire Company No 1.

The area where he lived is small and he worked 24 hours on and 24 hours off the job from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. During the winter there are around 20 firefighters on the job. He said most calls are field spills and EMS calls.

The highest temperature there was 42 degrees, but it also can go down to minus 50 degrees and has reached minus 80. Orsulak said he did a lot of hiking, cross country skiing and mountain biking. A highlight of his stay was an outdoor survival training. A group of the firefighters got dropped off out in the middle of the glacier and were taught how to survive in the harsh Antarctic environment. They spent the night outdoors. They built shelters out of blocks of snow, and melted snow for water.

"It was a very cold camping trip with temperatures down to minus 10 degrees," said Orsulak.

You can see penguins and seals in their real habitat and whales periodically. There is no plant life and no grass. Antarctica time is 16 and one half hours ahead of Pennsylvania time. The flight from Allentown to Antarctica takes 38 hours. There were many stops along the way. The flight from Christ Church, New Zealand to Antarctica was on a C-17, which Orsulak found very interesting.

There are many jobs of employment there, just like there are here. But people go to work there for only a few months. He communicated with students in Educare School and two elementary schools in Lehighton.

Orsulak remarked that the last sunset was in early October and then there was daylight all day long. It took him one month to adjust to Pennsylvania's nighttime and day time again.

Orsulak was asked to return to the position but he replied "maybe when his kids are older."

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