Mine Safety Competition at Jenny Wiley State Park sharpens skills

By Jennifer Turner

The Department for Natural Resources

The Kentucky Division of Mine Safety teams battled it out in a skills contest at Jenny Wiley State Park for two days in mid-April. While the Harlan regional office’s mine rescue team was named the overall champion, all teams gained valuable skills practice at the event.

Rescue teams from Barbourville, Madisonville, Pikeville, Martin, Harlan and Hazard counties took part in the April 19 and 20 contest that tested skills that could potentially save lives in a mining emergency.

“In the field competition, teams are given an emergency situation and are timed and observed by the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) qualified judges as they move through the course to locate, treat and move staged victims to the surface,” said James “Jat” Tabor, a member of the Madisonville mine rescue team.

Mine rescue contests are required bi-yearly by MSHA, requiring team members to solve a hypothetical problem while being timed and observed by judges according to complex rules.

Each mine rescue team consists of at least six members:

  • Captain: This person leads the team and makes final decisions with input from other members.
  • Communications: This team member maintains communications with fresh air base (where rescue teams can safely breathe without a breathing apparatus) and ensures team’s general well-being.
  • Gas person: Someone who is proficient in knowledge of mine gases that could be hazardous.
  • Map person: This team member maps the route that the team takes through the mine and the conditions encountered.
  • First aid: This person assumes control in a medical emergency, directing team in caring for patients; and
  • Fresh air base (FAB) specialist: This person monitors and controls activities at fresh air base while maintaining communications with team and command center.

Some teams add a second person at the fresh air base, an underground station located in the intake airway, and someone in the command center. The FAB specialist becomes the information middleman between the command center and the rescue team in the mine. The FAB should be as close to the emergency as safety will permit, adequately ventilated and in constant touch with the surface by telephone.

On the first day of competition, the Madisonville team took first place, the Hazard team took second and the Harlan team placed third. On day two, the Harlan team placed first, Hazard placed second and Barbourville took third.

A mine emergency may result from a number of causes such as a fire, an explosion, a wall collapse or an accident involving equipment.

“What makes it so hazardous is that you can’t just walk in and bring out the injured person”, said Ronnie Drake, retired KY State Mine Rescue Coordinator. “Gases (typically methane, carbon monoxide, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide and hydrogen sulfide) build up in a mine from equipment that runs on diesel engines, blasting with explosives and the coal itself. These gases can explode or contaminate the breathable air, so flow-through ventilation must be properly maintained at all times.”

In a mine the fresh air is distributed by fans, permanent structures and temporary barriers (curtains made of specialized cloth called Brattice Cloth). During the rescue contest, the rescue teams must map the air flow and air flow changes. Team members must also wear a self-contained breathing apparatus that gives them four hours of breathable air.

“Mine rescue takes dedication”, said Rick Johnson, Barbourville Office Branch Manager. “To these unique individuals, the safety of miners is their top priority. When others are going out of a mine during an emergency, they’re going in. They hope never to have to be called upon but they want to be ready if they are.”

Teams are judged on how close their maps are to the test mine map, how they moved Brattice Cloths to ventilate air flow and how quickly they rescued the miners.

“All 57 mine safety specialists from the Department for Natural Resources are certified mine rescue specialists,” said Jim Vicini, Director of the Division of Mine Safety. “In addition to the two MSHA mine rescue contests, each specialist trains eight hours every other month in mine rescue, two hours in oxygen safety, twice a year underground and attends yearly training in smoke conditions.”


Photos by Jennifer Turner

Categories: Fire, Mines, Natural Resources

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