Ray Mazzola, from Twentymile Coal Co., stands by during the Colorado Mine Rescue Contest’s pre-shift competition Thursday at Moffat County High School. Sixteen Twentymile employees participated in the three-day event, competing in first-aid, bench, mine rescue and pre-shift competitions. Mazzola’s group of workers took fifth place in the event overall.

Photo by Joshua Gordon

Ray Mazzola, from Twentymile Coal Co., stands by during the Colorado Mine Rescue Contest’s pre-shift competition Thursday at Moffat County High School. Sixteen Twentymile employees participated in the three-day event, competing in first-aid, bench, mine rescue and pre-shift competitions. Mazzola’s group of workers took fifth place in the event overall.

Twentymile among competitors in regional mine rescue contest

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Contest results

The following are results for teams of Northwest Colorado coalmine workers who competed Tuesday through Thursday at Moffat County High School in various events determining efficiency in job-related emergency responses:

Mine rescue:

(Team, Place)

Twentymile Coal Co. Team 1, 5

Twentymile Coal Co. Team 2, 7

Deserado Mine Silver Team, 14

Deserado Mine Black Team, 15

First aid:

(Team, Place)

Twentymile Team 2 Group 2, 9

Twentymile Team 2 Group 1, 10

Twentymile Team 1 Group 2, 12

Twentymile Team 1 Group 1, 13

Deserado Black, 22

Deserado Silver, 23

Pre-shift:

(Contestant/team, Place)

Jody Gregory/Twentymile, 9

Mark Beauchamp/Twentymile, 10

Brandon Sommers/Twentymile, 13

Ray Mazzola/Twentymile, 14

Jon Hawkins/Deserado, 16

Eric Popham/Deserado, 22

Danny Green/Twentymile, 24

Danny Bouwens/Twentymile, 27

Bench BG4:

(Contestant/team, Place)

Chuck Harvey/Twentymile, 2

Brandon Sommers/Twentymile, 3

Chad Day/Twentymile, 7

Dan Arnold/Twentymile, 9

Paul Kindall/Deserado, 12

Justin Donnel/Twentymile, 13

Chris Winn-Novice/Deserado, 14

Tyler Hampton/Twentymile, 15

Mark Beauchamp/Twentymile, 16

Duke Rich/Deserado, 17

Tad Lee/Twentymile, 18

Larry Martinez-Novice/Deserado, 20

Buck Healy-Novice/Deserado, 21

Overall:

(Team, Place)

Twentymile 1, 5

Twentymile 2, 6

Deserado Black, 14

Deserado Silver, 15

— Energy West Mining Co., of Huntington, Utah, won the overall competition.

Approaching the end of his first year on Twentymile Coal Company’s mine rescue team, Tyler Hampton has learned a lot.

Training alongside fellow rookies and veterans of the team has shown him just how important his job is, whether in a real situation or in competition to determine readiness.

“You definitely get a lot more experience with the guys who have been doing this for a while, but we learn a lot from everybody in every competition,” he said.

Hampton was one of 16 members of the Twentymile team who competed in the Colorado Coal Association’s three-day Mine Rescue, First Aid, Bench and Pre-Shift Contest, which began Tuesday at Moffat County High School.

The Twentymile group, made of two separate teams, received fifth and sixth place in the event out of 18 regional teams from Colorado, Wyoming, New Mexico, Montana and Utah,

The contest is designed to simulate and test the effectiveness of teams to emergencies on the job, responding to physical injuries and operating equipment. The final day of competition Thursday was the pre-shift stage, a routine safety check performed at mines every eight hours.

Contestants went through a specially constructed course on the MCHS football field intended to be as close to an actual mine layout as possible.

Within the confines of the area, competitors reacted to various scenarios that could occur at any given time.

“It’s set up just like the mine,” Twentymile trainer Mark Beauchamp said. “You check for methane, low oxygen, make sure the roof is good, that there’s no water, that all the lifelines are in place, the fire suppression is in place, all the stuff like that.”

Contestants were judged based on how effectively they completed the tasks laid out for them.

Beauchamp said his squad performed well, but a change in the roster slowed them down.

“We switched up things before we started, so we didn’t do as well as we could’ve, but we did OK,” he said. “There’s always some areas you can improve, and for us it was communication and cohesiveness. It was just some simple mistakes that we made today.”

Workers from Rangely’s Deserado Mine were also in attendance. Deserado’s squads took 14th and 15th in the competition.

“The practice we get here helps us practice for real situations when we need it most,” Deserado team member Roland Tallerico said. “We have had actual fires at our mine before, and competitions like this are one of the best places to practice for situations like that.”

Beauchamp, who has been part of the team for 15 years, agreed that having an outlet for the rescue team to practice prepares them for the real thing, should it ever happen.

“At the least, you get a routine, and when you get nervous in something like this, if you’ve done it over and over again, it doesn’t matter,” he said. “It just becomes habit and you just naturally do it. We prepare for the worst and hope the best will happen. It’s better to be prepared and not use it than not be prepared and need it.”

The website for the U.S. Department of Labor’s Mine Safety and Health Admin-

istration listed three fatalities in Colorado coalmines since 2000, a number considerably smaller than states in the eastern part of the country, like Pennsylvania (20), Alabama (34), Kentucky (94) or West Virginia (135).

“We’re pretty safe here, out West,” Twentymile team coordinator Dianna Ponikvar said.

Ponikvar, involved with the team since 1996, has not taken part in competitions herself for about five years, but she has seen her share of emergencies.

She responded to a call in 2000 to assist at Utah’s Willow Creek Mine following an explosion and fire.

“I signed my will that night with my attorney at my house before I left,” she said.

Contest overseer Peter Saint, director of MSHA for Colorado’s Western Slope, said the quality of work he had seen at the competition was more than up to the standard of rescue workers whose motto is “First ones in, last ones out.”

“If I was trapped in a mine, and I heard one of these teams were coming after me, my mind would be a lot easier because I know they’re ready, and there’s not a member on this team who wouldn’t put his life on the line to get me out,” he said.

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