The event was sponsored by KEMI, the Kentucky Employers’ Mutual Insurance company, which is the leading provider of workers' compensation insurance in Kentucky. KEMI coordinated with the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) and the Kentucky Office of Mine Safety and Licensing (OMSL) to present the three-day event, which was held at the Pikeville YMCA.
Each of the teams consists of five men each, from six states including Illinois, Indiana, Virginia and Alabama.
Ryan Worthen is the communications manager with KEMI. He said the company is very proud to be involved in the competition.
“If one miner benefits from this competition, it is worth it,” Worthen said. “Our entire company focus is on safety.”
The event was judged by MSHA inspectors as well as inspectors from the OMSL.
The competition is done in three segments, bench, pre-shift, and mine rescue competition.
Bench competition involves checking breathing apparatus that is carried by every coal miner in case a situation develops in which there are air quality problems. Judges place “bugs” in and on the equipment, and competitors work as quickly as possible to find the problems.
Pre-shift is safety inspections that take place at every mine before a shift enters the mine.
Norman Paige is the District Six manager for MSHA. He said he felt the competitors at Pikeville represented the best of the best.
“I am very impressed with what I have seen,” Paige said. “I will be in Nashville next month for the national competition, and at least 75 percent of these teams will compete there.”
Paige was part of the team that worked to conceive the situations represented at the mine rescue part of the competition.
Each team was presented with a mock disaster, the details of which they did not know ahead of time. The team is tethered together, and must work to bring a ‘victim’ out of the ‘mine’. The victim has stickers placed on their body describing their injuries and also providing a play-by-play of what may have happened to the injured miner while the team is working to bring him out of the mine.
Each move the team makes is observed by a group of judges who follow closely by, keeping score.
Ronnie Smith is a Safety Supervisor with Lone Mountain Processing, in Harlan County, Virginia, an Arch subsidiary. He has been involved with mine rescue since 1980; last year his team place third in the national competition.
Smith said one of the most important things that happens as the teams work together is the camaraderie that develops.
“It is totally different, when you are working underground during a disaster situation,” Smith said. “There are a totally different set of circumstances that you cannot recreate at a competition. Inside is totally different than playing outside.”
But, he said one of the employees at his mine expressed his gratitude for all the off-time Smith had spent training with the mine rescue team.
“One of the guys told me, ‘Ronnie, if I am ever hurt at work, and your face is the first thing I see, it will be the most beautiful face in the world.’”