2024 Highlights from Toolik’s Safety Department

Safety Coordinator and lead EMT Scott Filippone demonstrates proper protective gear on a sunny spring day at Toolik Field Station.
Photo by Justin Johnson/TFS
Safety Coordinator and lead EMT Scott Filippone demonstrates proper protective gear on a sunny spring day at Toolik Field Station.

Risks of danger permeate into nearly every aspect of remote Arctic research station. In the frenzy of preparing for a field campaign, how research teams can prevent these dangers can often slip through the cracks, said Toolik Field Station’s Safety Coordinator and lead EMT Scott Filippone. “That’s where we step in because safety is all we’re thinking about,” he said.

Toolik’s two-person Safety Department works to counter the wide-ranging risks encountered at the station, from promoting safe wilderness travel to serving as first responders in medical incidents to ensuring lab safety. Filippone encourages Toolik-based researchers to reach out to him to learn about the station’s safety resources.

“The most effective safety measures start in the planning phase,” he said. “I want people to take stock of their resources, training, and deficiencies before they even set foot on the plane for Alaska.”

Toolik Safety offers satellite phones and communication devices, bear spray, and first aid kits, available to borrow for free from the station’s staff office. 

They also liaise with key groups to connect residents with the necessary responders when emergencies occur, including receiving medical guidance from our physician sponsor Dr. Susan Dietz, and initiating search-and-rescue services from North Slope Borough. Combined with a suite of new supportive medical resources and an improved medical clinic built in 2022, funded by the National Science Foundation, Filippone said the station is now as equipped as a standard ambulance to respond to medical incidents. 

“Given our location, that’s pretty amazing,” he said.

Filippone is joined this summer by seasonal EMT Lalo Morales. Both agree that they view safety through a community lens. “A lot of our actions come from a position of advocacy and care,” Morales said.

One of the biggest challenges continues to be supporting the mental health of all residents. Filippone emphasizes preventive steps to all residents, coordinates mental health first aid training for station staff, and has compiled a review of resources on Toolik’s website

“When people come up to Toolik they often don't have their typical support systems anymore, and that can be really jarring,” Filippone said. In an emergency scenario, the station can pull in help from an off-site crisis line, he said. But the station is exploring ways to provide support before someone reaches a crisis point, like hosting community events or offering a reservable, private space for mediation or telehealth appointments. 

New resources on the way

The department is providing more opportunities for residents to learn safety skills. Every week this season, Filippone hosts Medical Mondays at 9 a.m. to highlight topics in field safety. All residents are welcome to join.

Another of Filippone’s concerns is tracking incidents and risks. Currently, if station residents have an accident or near-miss, the only official UAF reporting system requires a University of Alaska account. Filippone said this creates a barrier for residents not affiliated with the University of Alaska and could result in reporting delays. The department will soon roll out a new online reporting system where anyone who visits the station can individually report a concern. The new reporting system will allow Filippone to more readily document trends and find gaps in safety, enabling him to better address them.

The department is also clearing “chemical clutter” and updating a detailed inventory of chemicals at the station, noting where in each building each chemical is located.

Lalo Morales joins the Toolik Field Station Safety Department this summer as the 2024 seasonal EMT.
Photo courtesy of Lalo Morales
Lalo Morales joins the Toolik Field Station Safety Department this summer as the 2024 seasonal EMT.

Welcoming our new seasonal EMT

New to Toolik, Morales is an EMT-II with the State of Alaska and is nationally certified with the NREMT. The majority of his medical experience comes from working with wildfire crews in Alaska for the past 6 years, both as a crew member and medical support. He also frequently volunteers in clinics in Fairbanks and Anchorage, with groups such as the Alaska Health Fair or Remote Area Medical. 

While new to Toolik this year, Lalo has experience working in polar operations as a fuels operator in McMurdo Station ('22-'23). He's excited to return to a similar working environment, this time, in the clinic. When not working some of his hobbies include writing, reading, spending time outside, board games, and coffee.

Have questions or concerns? Contact the Toolik Safety Department at uaf-toolik-safety@alaska.edu