Mine emergency training exercises held at MSHA
Beckley Register-Herald
By John Blankenship
May 9, 2012

In simulated mining emergencies, some 56 teams from West Virginia and other coal mining states gathered Tuesday at the National Mine Health and Safety Academy in Beaver to compete in crisis preparedness, including firefighting, smoke training and mine rescue.

Training exercises were conducted concurrently: an outdoor firefighting competition, smoke training in the mine simulation laboratory and the West Virginia Alliance Mine Rescue Contest, in which the mine rescue teams tested their skills in pressure situations.

The teams demonstrated their preparation by assembling the critical breathing apparatus mine rescue workers depend on for survival, performing hands-on exercises in fighting fire and handling fire hoses, exploring a simulated mine in smoke and applying first aid to a victim — all conditions that often confront mine rescue teams as they prepare to search for and recover missing miners.

Meanwhile, Assistant Secretary of Labor for Mine Safety and Health Joseph A. Main, along with emergency operations personnel, state mining officials and representatives from several coal companies met to discuss the latest improvements in mine emergency training and mine rescue technology.

“We are here today to provide some background on mine emergency response and the preparation that takes place in the mining industry,” Main said.  “Much of the preparation and attention is on what most consider the backbone of mine emergency response — the mine rescue teams that are called upon to do heavy lifting during mine fires, explosions, roof falls, mine flooding and other such events in mining emergencies.  Preparation for these mine rescue teams involves a lot of dedication, skill and training.”

Main noted that those participating in training exercises are teams made up of regular mining people — miners, mine supervisors and others who volunteer for what is recognized as some of the most difficult emergency response work in the nation.

“Imagine being called upon to enter a coal mine hundreds of feet underground and travel 3 or 4 miles through treacherous conditions following a mine fire or explosion to find missing miners,” Main said.  “These are truly a special breed, and they deserve the best training and preparation we have to offer.”

Main said the advancing technologies include communication systems and electronic mapping and data sharing that allow advancing rescue teams and their command centers to be directly connected during underground rescue explorations.

Following Main’s remarks, members of the media were permitted to tour MSHA’s new state-of-the art emergency command vehicle, mobile gas laboratory, seismic location vehicle and mine gas monitoring vehicle.

John Urosek, MSHA’s chief of Mine Emergency Operations, explained the purpose of the mobile command center is to serve as a hub for information during a mining emergency and to ensure that the mine rescue teams can get the information rapidly and accurately.

“Decision-makers need that information quickly to ensure the safety of mine safety teams and direct the operations underground.  These are new technology tools to help rescue miners.  They include the use of robots to measure conditions underground and communicate with mine rescue teams and relay information back to the command center, enabling us to see what the robot sees in real time.”

The skills competitions Tuesday included fire hose safety, firefighting, equipment moving, testing instruments, first aid and locating objects in heavy smoke conditions.  Participants competing in the two-day event include miners from West Virginia, Virginia, Kentucky, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

Darren Blankenship, owner of Mine Safety Services, a support safety contracting company, helped sponsor the contest.

“It offers a unique opportunity to provide hands-on training for miners who might not be able to get it elsewhere,” Blankenship said.  “The smoke and fire training help miners gain experience in poor visibility conditions and in circumstances that challenge them mentally.”