PIKEVILLE, Ky. - Kentucky Employers’ Mutual Insurance (KEMI) is holding the annual Mine Rescue Competition in Pikeville this week, hosting teams of over 500 miners from six states.
The competition is an opportunity for coal mine rescue teams to sharpen their skills as well as get to know fellow rescuers from across the country.
Daven Hoskins is a coal loss representative in the education department at KEMI. He said teams from Kentucky, West Virginia, Illinois, Indiana, Virginia and Alabama attended the three-day event.
Competition is held in three areas: pre-shift, bench and mine rescue.
Hoskins explained that a foreman enters a mine before each shift, a pre-shift inspection, to check for and correct any hazards that may be present before the miners enter the mine. Pre-shift competition gives the teams a scenario they would encounter during a pre-shift inspection, and rates their competence on correcting any issues they find.
Bench competition is focused on apparatus and equipment. The equipment has a “bug,” a problem, and the miners must ensure the equipment is working properly.
But the biggest competition is mine rescue.
The fields at Bob Amos Park are cordoned off into 11 areas, where mine rescue teams face scenarios of mining disasters, fires and explosions. The teams work and communicate together to solve the problems in the shortest time possible with the fewest mistakes, without endangering the team.
Placards are placed within the areas with specific details of the particular situation each team faces, such as a roof collapse, a flooded area or a place where endangered men have barricaded themselves in a safe area. Information is provided that, in an actual disaster situation, would be gathered with monitors, such as oxygen, methane and carbon dioxide levels. Team members also portray miners who are injured or in a dangerous situation.
Each team is connected by a rope, to ensure no one is left alone. A team member is set up behind a curtain, receiving and relaying information via radio, coordinating the rescue efforts.
Judges are state and federal officials from the Mine Safety and Health Administration and the Office of Surface Mining.
Eddie Lawson works for Mountain Laurel, a subsidiary of Arch Coal in Sharples. He has been a mine rescue team trainer for 18 years, and has placed in the top three at recent events. Lawson had two teams in the Pikeville competition. He said mine rescue required a certain type of person.
“Calm, cool and collected,” he said, describing the attitude needed for the job. “You need courage, and the right training. You have to be able to develop a certain level of competency to go into a disaster. We don’t want to go, but we will go if we are needed.”
He said the bond created at the competitions is important.
“We are competitive, but we are supportive as well,” Lawson told the Daily News. “We get to know each other. If we are in a disaster situation, we are not working with strangers. It is crucial you feel comfortable with the people you are trying to help.”
Hoskins said the rescue teams realize how important their work is.
“The men on the team know, if not for them, miners would be lost,” he said.
Lawson, whose teams assisted at the Upper Big Branch and Aracoma mining disasters, said his men know what the competition is - a way to save the lives of fellow coal miners.
“Today, there are 400 men at our mine, earning a living,” he said. “If something happened, we would return home, and these teams would come with us. They have proved it, teams hear about a situation and they come without being asked.”
Daven Hoskins summed it up.
“Only coal miners can rescue coal miners.”
The KEMI Coal Mine Rescue Competition wrapped up yesterday, July 14. The Daily News will print the results as soon as they are make available.