How Ajax protects the Vernadsky Research Base in Antarctica from fires
Photo courtesy Yurіі Shepeta
In the spring of 2021, the Vernadsky Research Base, a Ukrainian Antarctic Station, was equipped with an Ajax security system featuring FireProtect and FireProtect Plus fire detectors. The Ajax equipment was delivered at a distance of 16 thousand kilometers and now protects the scientific base in Antarctica. From this article, you will learn how to install a fire alarm system at a facility if that facility is a polar station.
There are 10 to 14 members of the Ukrainian expedition living at the Vernadsky Research Base. They are scientists and the people who run the station. Every year, one team of polar explorers replaces the other.
They study the Southern Ocean, the Earth’s magnetic field, and Antarctica’s climate, flora, and fauna. For example, they record the “languages” and “dialects” of whales, monitor the hole in the ozone layer, and make daily meteorological measurements to predict the weather worldwide and global climate change.
Wasn’t there already a fire alarm at the Vernadsky Research Base?
There was, but no one upgraded it for 36 years (since 1985). For the first 10 years, the base was used by British polar explorers. At the time, the base was called “Faraday” and belonged to the United Kingdom. Since then, it changed name, flag, and country, but not its fire detection equipment.
The old system malfunctioned and caused false alarms. Some detectors were inoperable. But finding spare parts for them (and bringing them to Antarctica) was becoming more difficult.
What happens if there is a fire in Antarctica?
Antarctica is the windiest place on earth, where hurricane-force winds blow most of the time. Even a tiny flame can quickly turn into a large blaze.
Most of the buildings at Antarctic stations were built decades ago. These are often small wooden houses with metal panels insulated with foam. When the foam burns, it releases the deadly phosgene gas.
In 2020, there was a short circuit at the Russian “Mirny” station. The fire burned down laboratories, the radio room, and other buildings.
A polar station is an unusual facility. What to consider when choosing an alarm system?
Communication reliability. The station is a complex of buildings, so it is important to cover them with one system. For this, the most reliable radio communication with a long range is required.
Maintenance. You can’t invite a professional installer to a station in Antarctica; the station engineers maintain the system themselves. It mustn’t require a lot of attention. Devices must operate from batteries for years, and instantly alert if something goes wrong. For example, if a detector loses connection or if batteries need to be replaced in a couple of months.
Fire alert. There is a person at the station who monitors the system. You need a system with a handy alarm-monitoring app for PCs as well as loud sirens to alert people to danger.
Сlimate impact. During the cold season, the temperature outside drops to -27°C. In residential premises, it is kept at +16-18°C, and in non-residential ones, it is kept with a slight “plus”. The specifications of the detectors must correspond to these conditions.
Why was Ajax chosen for Antarctica?
The policy of the Antarctic Center is to buy Ukrainian. And only buy the best — you can’t economize on Antarctica. The price of failure is very high, and shipping costs a lot of money. A marker was triggered: if a security system — then Ajax. And we were not mistaken with the choice.Viacheslav Marchenko, Deputy Director of the National Antarctic Scientific Center (NASC)
In addition to the hub (the security system control panel) and two sirens, ten Ajax fire detectors were delivered to Galindez Island in West Antarctica. They protect against fire, detect smoke and rapid temperature swings, and prevent carbon monoxide poisoning.
When connected to the Ajax security system via the secure Jeweller radio protocol, the detectors can operate at distances of up to 1,300 meters from the hub.
Ajax fire detectors will do the job even if the station loses access to the Internet or there is no one to monitor alarms. The devices can operate independently from the system control panel. Even if there will be no connection with the hub, detectors will recognize the threat, and the built-in sirens will alert the danger. The siren volume is 85 dB to wake up even those who fast asleep.
Ajax will also handle it when the temperature in the station premises drops to +11-12°C (happens when there are strong winds). Detector’s operating temperature ranges from 0°C to +65°C.
Finally, there is no need to worry about how frequently you have to send new batteries to the station. The autonomous operation period of the detectors is up to 4 years.
How to bring equipment to the edge of the world?
All Ajax devices were bought in Ukraine. It took three planes, one ship, and about seven days to get them to Antarctica. Five of those were spent traveling by ship, which crossed the most stormy place on the planet — the Drake Passage.
Each polar explorer brings three bags: two with their own stuff and one shared. Ajax was delivered in such a bag.
Installation and setup. How did everything go?
Ajax devices are ready to work out of the box; the battery is already pre-installed, and the detectors don’t need to be disassembled. They connect to a hub in one tap in the apps and mount in a few minutes on a SmartBracket. Any questions can always be resolved by contacting the Ajax support team, which is available 24/7 and helps users from all over the world in six languages.
The system was installed by the lead specialist, the system mechanic of the Vernadsky Research Base. For participation in the expedition, the competition committee of the National Antarctic Scientific Center selects the best candidate among applicants from all over Ukraine. The system mechanic supervises the quality of installation and ensures the reliable operation of the equipment.
How does station alarm monitoring work?
The station uses the computer with the PRO Desktop app installed. A screen with all the indicators is placed in the lobby of the main building. Another computer in the on-duty person’s office is used as an alarm monitoring station.
To manage the system on the go, station engineers have Ajax apps on their smartphones. The station has Internet, but it became unlimited only this spring after installing a satellite antenna.
During the two months of operation, there were two alarms at the station: in the kitchen, when the polar explorers were grilling steaks, and in the carpentry shop, where welding work was taking place. In both cases, the equipment responded to the smoke.
The plan is to install 20 more fire detectors at the station as well as to supplement the Ajax system with the ReX radio signal range extender. The polar station consists of 12 buildings (including living quarters, a carpentry workshop, and a boathouse), located at a distance from each other. The buildings are covered with profiled iron, which can interfere with the radio signal. The range extender will increase the reach of the devices and become a reliable link between the detectors and the hub.