Mine rescue contest promotes preparedness, provides boost to local economy | CraigDailyPress.com

Mine rescue contest promotes preparedness, provides boost to local economy

Lauren Blair

A mine rescue team from the San Juan Mine near Farmington, New Mexico runs through a scenario on day two of the Colorado Mine Rescue Association Mine Rescue Contest at Craig Middle School Wednesday. The team found an injured miner behind a mock barricade and must apply first aid before determining how best to evacuate the victim.

— At least 150 miners and mine staff converged on Craig this week for the Colorado Mine Rescue Association Mine Rescue Contest.

Hosted in Craig every other year, the contest drew 10 mine rescue teams of seven people each plus support staff from underground mines located throughout Colorado, Wyoming, Utah and New Mexico and Mine Safety and Health Administration staff. Two teams from nearby Twentymile Mine competed in the contest.

The event filled area hotels and gave a boost to local restaurants as well.

"Not only is it a wonderful event for our community, it's a wonderful event for our hoteliers in town because it has us all running at 100 percent or pretty close to it," said Kerry Moe, co-owner of Best Western Plus Deer Park Inn & Suites in Craig. "We were talking to the guys and they've been going out every night. They've been purchasing stuff locally, so it's been great for the local economy."

The contests serve not only as a chance for mine rescue teams to compete and build camaraderie, but federal law actually requires teams to attend at least two competitions every year for training purposes, according to LaVon Turpin of Mountain Coal Company, the mine rescue team trainer for the West Elk Mine from Delta County.

"It's designed to make teams work as a unit and think as a unit, so when they go into a mine disaster, they know how to work as a unit," said Twentymile Mine Safety Specialist and Mine Rescue Trainer Mark Beauchamp. "It builds a lot of camaraderie."

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Teams competed in three events Tuesday through Thursday at Craig Middle School: mine rescue, first aid and the "bench" competition, which requires participants to troubleshoot malfunctioning equipment such as a breathing apparatus and repair it to a functioning state.

Teams are judged both on time and criteria measuring their performance, with trophies going to the top three in each category.

Being a part of a mine rescue team is a big commitment for miners, and requires an investment of time and energy outside of the regular 40-hour work week.

"It's a big family choice," said Peter Saint, Western Administrator of Mine Rescue Competitions for MSHA. "Not only do you spend time in the evenings studying and learning all the rules… if there is an event, you might be gone for several months."

Mine rescue teams also put themselves in danger's way when attending to mine disasters, and the contests are designed to give them practice navigating treacherous underground terrain in the case of an emergency. In mock disaster scenarios, teams must check the roof and walls for instability, check for potentially lethal or explosive gases, create maps of the underground scenario, rescue trapped or injured miners and communicate their findings back to a command center.

"Whenever you go into a panic, you revert back to what you know," Beauchamp said. "They practice over and over and over. What they're doing is really highly stressful, so they don't want to have to think about it… they already know the answer."

Contact Lauren Blair at 970-875-1794 or lblair@CraigDailyPress.com.