Ada native and Byng High School graduate Buddy Pearce has an unusual job.

“I am a firefighter and medic at McMurdo Station in Antarctica,” Pearce said. “I work there for the summer season, which is from August to February each year. And then I am off from February until August.”

Pearce, 34, works for Pacific Architects and Engineers, contracted through the National Science Foundation.

“We are basically down there to offer fire protection to the incoming military C-130 and C-17 aircraft from the United States Air Force as well as the New Zealand Royal Navy,” Pearce said. “We’re also there to protect buildings and structures, any kind of lab equipment, any kind of research equipment for NSF and NASA as well.”

One of Pearce’s more unusual tasks is herding penguins.

“Anytime penguins get on a runway or an ice roadway — anytime it’s going to cut down on traffic or cause any kind of delay, we actually carry permits on us that are issued (in accordance with) the Antarctica Treaty that allow us to remove them from the area,” Pearce said. “We don’t touch them or come in contact with them. We basically walk behind them and wave our arms and kind of shoo them away. One of the most important things down there is we try not to disturb the wildlife.”

Pearce said the beginning of the summer season is notable for unusual storms.

“We have three different conditions down there for the weather,” Pearce said. “We have Condition 3, which is a nice, normal day. Condition 2 is when the winds are up, and visibility is starting to drop. For Condition 1, imagine a hurricane and double that.

“If we have any kind of deep field researchers or anyone like that get into trouble, and a storm moves in, they’ll dispatch us out. Last season we had an LC-130 (ski-equipped cargo plane) that was flying in from New Zealand, and we had a storm move in right before they arrived. It was in white-out conditions. They can’t see the runway, so they have to land in a certain area and just plow into the snow until the aircraft stops. Then we have to rescue passengers, which includes keeping them from developing hypothermia.”

Last season Pearce was chosen to join the prestigious Joint Antarctic Search and Rescue Team.

In addition to his education at Byng High School, Pearce attended the Pontotoc Technology Center, where he became a firefighter.

“I attended the PTC Fire Academy, then returned the next year as an instructor,” Pearce said. “I helped train tons and tons of firemen from all over the state.”

During his off months in Oklahoma, Pearce likes to ramble about in a 2011 Honda Element — dubbed his “Hotelement” — which he has maximized for camping.

Pearce said the things he misses most when on the ice are rain, green grass and the moon, which is often not visible during Antarctica’s summer season. From November through February below the Antarctica circle, the sun never sets.

Richard R. Barron | The Ada News

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