They''ve battled mine fires, contained underground floods and rescued their colleagues trapped beneath layers of rock or disoriented by toxic gas.
Mine rescue teams are highly trained specialists with skills that enable them to save lives and recover mine property.
Their technical expertise was put to the test this week during the Ohio Valley Mine Rescue Contest in St. Clairsville, Ohio.
Twenty-two teams from seven states -- including one from Ohio and six from West Virginia -- competed in the annual two-day event, second only in size to the national coal mine rescue competition which will be held Sept. 18-20, 2001 in Louisville, Ky.
"Mine rescue contests are invaluable training exercises that enable teams to solve an elaborate problem when miners'' lives are not on the line," said MSHA Administrator Dave Lauriski. "Naturally, we hope their skills will never be needed, but their fellow miners can feel confident knowing that, even in practice, they demand of themselves the highest standards in mine safety."
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.
In other phases of the competition, benchmen -- those individuals charged with maintaining rescue equipment -- must thoroughly inspect breathing devices that have been purposely tampered with and must correct those defects as quickly as possible.
In the first aid contest, participants must demonstrate the correct method of caring for an injured miner. Teams are judged on the use of proper application of skills according to the fundamentals of first aid.
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, sought a training vehicle that would provide the mining industry with a cadre 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.
by Virginia Sutcliffe