Mine rescue

Competition sharpens skills and teamwork

Bridger Coal Company rescue team trainer Steve Gravley met his crew as they exited the simulated mineshaft.

"Close that passage and open this one," he said pointing to a chart of the mine. "You have good air there."

With that advise, the crew headed back into the "mine" to search for more victims in the mining disaster drill, taking place this week in Craig.

Eight teams from mines in Wyoming, Utah and Colorado are taking part in the 16th annual Mine Rescue Contest at the Craig Middle School football field.

Mine shafts are staked out on the field and placards representing everything from tools to victims are placed on the ground for discovery by the rescue teams.

A sign reading "caved" stops the team from advancing into a caved in tunnel. In the next portal, the team finds an injured miner.

"I've made the ventilation change," Gravley said into his communication headset. "You've got to airlock to go in there."

The team works quickly to remove the downed miner from the mineshaft and heads immediately back in to look for more victims.

"They go in and rescue the people. They may have to timber and change the ventilation, bypass water and put fires out," Larry Ramey with Mine Safety and Health Administration said. "We give them a little bit of everything they might run into in a mine."

Ramey is familiar with the layout because he designed and laid out the day's disaster that each team will need to overcome.

Time spent by teams resolving the mock disaster is normally between one-and-a-half to two-and-a-half hours and sometimes longer.

"They've got to correct the hazards and ventilate the explosive methane gasses out," William Denning with MSHA said. "This setup here is a lot like what occurred at the Sago (West Virginia) mine disaster."

The Sago disaster claimed the lives of 12 miners, and resulted in new regulations for underground miners nationwide. One miner survived.

"Early last year, the new Miner Act made it mandatory to have a rescue team at each mine, or arrangements to have a nearby team respond within one hour," MSHA District Manager Allyn Davis said. "The focus is on mine rescue and protecting people in case of a mine disaster."

There are two training competitions held each year in coal mining states, including one in Price, Utah, and the one that alternates between Paonia, in Delta County, and Craig.

One benefit realized by all the teams competing in the contest is the teamwork and camaraderie created among miners.

"The teams work with each other until they're trained up," Ramey said. "In case of a disaster, it's not going to be the first time these teams have worked together."

The days of competition are broken down into varying events to train miners in all aspects of rescue operations.

During Tuesday's bench competition, the miners breathing apparatus was given a problem by equipment vendors, with the miner required to find and repair the problem in less than 30 minutes.

Thursday's events include a preshift contest, insuring that safety conditions are met before entering the mine for work.

High scoring teams at the competitions are rewarded during an awards banquet Thursday evening at Loudy-Simpson Park, but as MSHA administrative assistant Bert Ramey points out, the knowledge gained at the contest makes everyone a winner when it comes to preparedness.

"I've seen so much improvement on the teams from year to year," she said. "They're all well trained and very dedicated. If you were trapped in a mine, theses are the guys you want to rescue you."

Dan Olsen can be reached at 824-7031, ext.207, or dolsen@craigdailypress.com

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