Unfortunately, mine rescue teams have been activated all too many times this year.
Although 2001 has been a black year for mining fatalities and injuries in the United States, there are many mines that are operating safely and doing a good job of protecting their employees.
One indication of the quality of a mine's safety program is the competence of its search and rescue teams. This year, Consol Energy Inc.'s Enlow Fork Mine of West Finley, Pa., took first place in the 2001 Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) National Mine Rescue, Bench and First Aid Contest held in Louisville, Ky.
Energy West Mining's Silver Team, of Huntington, Utah, and the American Coal Co.'s Galatia Mine of Galatia, Ill., finished second and third, respectively. Thirty-eight teams from 10 states participated in the bi-annual competition sponsored by MSHA.
"The incidents of Sept. 11 have demonstrated to us how absolutely essential are the skills of search and rescue personnel," said Dave Lauriski, assistant secretary of labor for mine safety and health. "Right now, mine rescue teams in Alabama are working around the clock to recover the bodies of their fallen brothers," he added, referring to last month's explosions that killed 13 miners at Jim Walter #5 mine in Brookwood, Ala.
Galatia Mine took top honors in the bench competition, in which miners who maintain rescue equipment must thoroughly inspect breathing devices that have been purposely tampered with and must correct those defects as quickly as possible. Lodestar Energy Inc. of Clay, Ky., and Mingo Logan Coal Co.'s Mountaineer Mine of Wharncliffe, W.Va., finished second and third, respectively.
Eastern Associated Coal Corp.'s Southern Appalachia A Team, of Twilight, W.Va., won the first aid competition, followed by Energy West Mining's Silver Team #2 and Eastern Associated Coal Corp.'s Southern Appalachia B Team of Fairview, W.Va. In the first aid contest, competitors tackle real-life medical emergency scenarios.
Mine rescue competitions require six-member teams to solve a hypothetical mine emergency problem - such as a fire, explosion or cave-in - while judges rate them on their adherence to safety procedures and how quickly they complete specific tasks.
Mine rescue training began in the United States in 1910, the year the U.S. Bureau of Mines was created. Joseph A. Holmes, the bureau's first director, wanted to create a training program that would provide the mining industry with a group of mine rescue specialists who would be prepared to respond to mine disasters. The training efforts evolved into local and regional competitions and, a year later, a national contest.
edited by Sandy Smith