It’s inaccurate to say safety is a priority at Twentymile Coal Co. General manager Jason Davis prefers to put a finer point on it.
“Safety is a value,” he said. “Priorities change, values don’t.”
The statement is supported by evidence — trophies in Twentymile’s main building in Routt County.
Shelves upon shelves in the building’s main corridor are occupied by bronze trophies.
The trophies are the result of Twentymile’s participation in regional and national mine rescue contests dating back to the mine’s opening in 1984.
In May, a team of 10 mine rescue personnel from Twentymile traveled to Sumiton, Ala., to compete against 20 teams in the Alabama Mine Rescue Contest. The event featured competitions in first aid and mine rescue.
The local team took second place in first aid, and its combined scores in first aid and mine rescue earned the team another second-place trophy in the event’s combined division.
In April, a team of 18 from Twentymile participated in the Four Corners Mine Rescue Contest in Farmington, N.M. There, they won three first-place trophies and a third-place trophy.
Mark Beauchamp, the team’s trainer, has been working at the mine since 1989. Two words describe the secret to the mine’s long winning streak.
“Desire. Practice,” he said.
Mine rescue contests began in 1911 in the U.S., organized by the U.S. Bureau of Mines.
Today, contests are managed by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Mine Safety and Health Association. Mines are required to send safety teams to two contests each year.
According to the MSHA website, contests “are designed to sharpen skills and test the knowledge of team members who would be called on to respond to a mine emergency. The contest requires team members to solve a hypothetical problem while being timed and observed by judges according to complex rules.”
Generally, there are four events in each contest: first aid, mine rescue, pre-shift and benching.
The events take place on football fields. Lines are drawn on the turf to mimic the underground sections of a coal mine.
Beauchamp said miners play out scenarios within those sections.
“What they do is set up a scenario in there where we have to ventilate explosive gasses, we may have to timber areas of unsafe roof (or) pump water,” he said. “And, eventually, we ventilate and bring out the people who are barricaded in there and bring them outside to safety.”
In the case of an unsafe roof, he said, the miners will construct timbers out of PVC or other materials.
In first aid events, the miners will approach victims and provide emergency care according to
“They’ll wear a sticker that says three-inch contusion or broken femur or breathing difficulties,” Beauchamp said of the pretend patients.
In benching, contestants are tasked with troubleshooting and fixing their self-contained breathing apparatuses.
Beauchamp is a two-time national champion in the benching event, and so is Chuck Harvey, another team member.
Beauchamp said Peabody, the company that owns Twentymile, supports the team.
“The good thing about working for Peabody is they let us do more than is required by the law,” he said. “The law only requires us to do two contests every year. But, our one traveling team is going to get eight contests this year. So, they support us 100 percent.”
Peabody allows the team to practice for a full 40-hour week before each event.
Beauchamp said the timed competitions can be pressure cookers. But, he’s found an approach that works.
“One of the things I tell my guys is, ‘If we slow down, we’ll move faster,’” he said. “Speed is a factor, but if you slow down and get everything right the first time, we’ll get faster. If you do it three or four times, it will take you longer to do it.
“Once they bought into that philosophy, we’ve gotten faster.”
Beauchamp said that serving as coach for a winning team is satisfying, but sometimes the crown is heavy.
“You see all the gray in this beard?” he said pointing to his chin. “I never had it until I took over (as trainer).
“Everyone wants to win, but winning consistently is stressful.”
Ben McCanna can be reached at 875-1793 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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