Boone hosts mine rescue contest

Boone hosts mine rescue contest

Fitted with breathing equipment, gas detectors and mining helmets, dozens of coal miners gathered at the Boone County Civic Center in Madison on Thursday.

Teams of a half dozen miners erected wood frames and hung plastic barriers on the wooden gym floor. When they reached certain rooms, labeled with white cards taped to the gym floor, they ”rescued” injured miners ”” and sometimes removed miners already dead.

The events were part of one of the dozens of mine rescue team contests the Joseph A. Holmes Safety Association holds every year throughout the coalfields.

Founded in 1916, the nonprofit organization promotes health and safety in underground mines. It includes officials from federal and state enforcement agencies, mine supervisors and mine workers.

Doug Fala, superintendent of the Harris Mine, coordinated Thursday’s contest. Harris is owned by Eastern Associated Coal Corp., a subsidiary of Peabody Energy.

The six rescue teams competing in Madison came from Southern West Virginia, eastern Kentucky and Morgantown, including teams from Eastern, Arch Coal and Massey Energy.

”We focus on difficult problems and obstacles, on victims and patients injured in underground accidents,” Fala said.

Mine rescue teams have been in the spotlight since early this year, when 12 miners died at the Sago Mine in Upshur County. Since then, seven more miners have died in West Virginia.

A new mine safety law called the MINER Act, which passed the House of Representatives Wednesday, will fund efforts to develop more and better-trained rescue teams and require rescue teams to be able to respond to any mining tragedy within one hour.

Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., said Wednesday that Congress is likely to approve separate legislation adding $35.6 million to the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration budget.

Fala said both MSHA and the state Office of Miners’ Health, Safety and Training help the Holmes Safety competitions, even though the agencies do not enter their own teams.

”A lot of these guys were involved in rescue efforts at Sago, Aracoma and other mines where people have died recently,” Fala said.

”We have a dozen competitions from Memorial Day to Labor Day and practice for what might happen. We take a lot of pride in what we do,” he said.

Next week, rescue teams will compete against each other in St. Clairsville, Ohio.

Sometimes the events feature separate first-aid contests, focusing on trauma, heart attacks and broken limbs.

Jules Gautier Jr., who supervises MSHA’s office in Princeton, helped judge Thursday’s contest in Madison.

Working for MSHA for the past 35 years, Gautier was chief judge at the national contest last year. He also designed the potential disaster scenario in Thursday’s contest.

”I am getting ready to retire,” Gautier joked on Thursday. ”My dad was on a mine rescue team. I have been interested in this since I was 12 years old.

He described Thursday’s scenario: ”Miners had cut into an old mine works, allowing an explosive mixture of methane into the working mine. There is also a continuous miner on fire in the underground area.”

This year’s national contest, usually held in Louisville, Ky., will move to Nashville, Tenn.

”These people are a special breed of people. They have to be available 24 hours a day. They give up a lot of their family life,” Gautier said of mine rescue team members.

Phil Smith, a national spokesman for the United Mine Workers, said, ”These competitions are very important to help mine rescue teams make sure their skills are sharp to do the things they need to do underground.

”When it comes to mine rescue teams, it is not really about who wins these competitions, but how qualified they are and how ready they are to go underground,” Smith said. ”Hopefully, with passage of the MINER Act yesterday, we will have many more people prepared to go underground to do the dangerous and heroic work that these people have always done.”

To contact staff writer Paul J. Nyden, use e-mail or call 348-5164.


Share this post