By Bill Archer Bluefield Daily Telegraph 23 May 2010
BLUEFIELD, WV — There’s no question that the April 5, tragedy at the Upper Big Branch South Mine had an impact on the fourth annual mine rescue team contest at the Bluefield State College campus, but eight mine rescue teams remained focused on the problems and worked through the training exercises.
“We’re going to mine a little coal while you’re getting this little problem worked out,” Milton Smallwood said. Smallwood is a safety instructor with the Welch Regional office of the West Virginia Miners Office of Health Safety and Training. Smallwood said the same thing to each team as they approached the Higginbotham Sports Complex Field in single file to tackle the problem developed by Welch Post #1, National Mine Rescue Association and reviewed by the federal Mine Health and Safety Administration.
“So that others may live. That’s why they do it,” Andrea Horn of Buchanan County, Va., said as she and her daughter, Amanda Horn, sat beneath umbrellas in canvas chairs and watched mine rescue teams working through a roped-off maze of simulated problems. Event organizers from Welch Post #1 and BSC cut the designs in the outfield grass of the June O. Shott Field. Team members tackled the problem wearing fiber-wound oxygen tanks and breathing through masks the whole time.
“These are the guys who, when everyone comes running out, they go in,” Andrea Horn said.
“It’s not much of a spectator sport,” Amanda Horn said. However, she attends mine rescue competitions to show her support for her father, Jackie Horn, a member of Consol Energy’s Buchanan Mine Black Team.
“We all watched what happened at Upper Big Branch,” Andrea Horn said. “Right now, the families at the Buchanan Mine are working on a plan in case something like that ever happens to us. We want to pre-plan what we can do. We don’t want to see anyone standing on the side of a road, not knowing where to go or what to do.”
Horn’s Buchanan Mine Rescue Black Team placed first in the contest with Consol Energy’s Buchanan Mine Rescue Red Team coming in second. A third Buchanan County team, the Jewel Smokeless Mine Rescue Red Team came in third. The other teams that participated included the Pocahontas Coal Company Mine Rescue Team, the International Coal Group Black Team, ICG’s Wolf Run Mine Rescue White Team and the South Pocahontas Mine Rescue Team.
“These guys are the candles in the darkness ... the sentinels of the future of coal mining,” Mike Plumley said. Plumley directed the competition this year. He is a district inspector for District IV, West Virginia Office of Miners Health Safety and Training who specializes in electrical systems.
Plumley pointed out that there is a transition taking place in the mine rescue teams statewide as team members in their mid to late 50s “transition out,” and younger members come in to take their place. A few years ago, the number of mine rescue teams had dropped off to a very few. However, after the Sago Mine disaster on Jan. 2, 2006, new federal regulations have brought an increase in the number of mine rescue teams statewide. At the same time, cooperation between state, federal and local mine rescue teams has improved.
“Several of these teams were at Upper Big Branch,” Plumley said. “It can be difficult to deal with. I tell them to remember what they experienced and saw here, take it back with them to their mines and share it with the miners they work with.”
Plumley said that training competitions like the one in Bluefield on Saturday help the members of rescue teams throughout the region get to know each other so if they’re brought together at a critical time, they will know what to do.
“It’s like a family,” one of the mine inspectors judging the competition said. “These guys are like brothers. You’ll go to situations in West Virginia or Virginia and you’ll see the same people. They want to win, but they also want to train. There are no losers here.”
Welch Post #1 NMRA distributed baseball caps to mine rescue teams who participated. The back of the caps have the message: “In Memory April 5, 2010.”
CART: ingenuity to industry
©2018 CART, Inc., All rights reserved.