Paramedic in the Arctic Circle

Peter White, Sub-Officer ‘D’ Watch, Phibsborough Fire Station, is a paramedic who has a keen interest in hill-walking and mountain climbing.

Peter’s impressive record includes summiting Aconcagua in Argentina, Elbrus in Russia, Kilimanjaro in Tanzania and a number of volcanoes in Ecuador. He was unable to summit Everest and Mount Blanc due to equipment and weather problems but has regularly climbed in the Chamonix region of the Alps.In 2012, the 150th anniversary of DFB, Peter decided, to use his enthusiasm for mountain climbing, to mark that special occasion with an ascent of Mount McKinley, inside the Arctic Circle, Alaska. He joined a team for the ascent and due to his paramedic qualifications, was appointed an official medic for the expedition. The expedition left Anchorage on 3rd and returned on the 20th June 2012. Mount McKinley or Denali (“the high one” the native name) is 6,194 metres, the highest peak in North America and one of the seven summits, ie the highest summit on each continent. The challenges faced on Denali include the severe cold, the difficulties sleeping due to the almost permanent daylight and the lack of oxygen. There are no porters for climbers so everything has to be individually sledged or carried, to enable an attempt on the summit.   Initially, this is split between towing a sled and carrying a backpack but higher on the mountain when it is too steep for a sled, then everything is carried in the backpack. Normally loads weigh about 120 pounds or about 50 kg and bear in mind that this is carried at high altitude. Mountain climbing is a serious undertaking and this year just over 1000 climbers attempted to summit Denali, but only 300 succeeded. Sadly four Japanese climbers were killed by an avalanche 2 days after Peter’s successful attempt and he witnessed avalanches as a daily occurrence. High altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE) is a major cause of death for climbers, related to high-altitude exposure, with a high mortality in the absence of adequate emergency treatment. HAPE occurs when there is fluid accumulation in the lungs of otherwise healthy climbers. The initial cause is a shortage of oxygen and immediate treatment is to descend to a lower altitude (at least 1000m) as quickly as possible. Peter was located in High Camp, 5,240m, when a climber suffered the effects of HAPE. He was initially treated by a fellow climber, a doctor from Wales and was then airlifted by a National Parks Service helicopter. 

Jeff Furman (ex USMC) and Peter White (DFB)on the summit 20.00hrs June 18th 2012.