From: The Columbus Dispatch
By Dan Gearino
Ohio hasn’t had a major mine disaster in more than 50 years. If such a thing does happen, the people competing this week in Columbus will be the ones who will work to bring their colleagues out alive.
Mine-rescue teams from across the country, including three from Ohio, are going through simulations that test their ability to react to emergency situations.
They are contestants in the biennial event held by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Mine Safety and Health Administration, and hosted this year by the Greater Columbus Convention Center. Organizers expect about 1,500 people to attend.
“It’s just like family. Just like brothers,” said Chris Cosgrove, safety director for Buckingham Coal Co., based in Perry County.
He started working as a miner in 1994 and was a member of his company’s rescue team. This year is his first acting as a coach of sorts, watching from the sidelines as his co-workers made their way through the course.
Five team members navigated through a competition area about as big as a basketball court, marked off with metal railings, intended to represent the walls of a coal mine. Signs taped to the floor indicated obstacles. A sixth team member sat in an enclosed booth and gave instructions over a two-way radio.
Teams had 70 minutes to finish the challenge, which involved retrieving a co-worker from a simulated disaster. The four-day event, which ends Thursday, also includes first-aid tests and equipment-repair challenges. More than 100 teams from more than a dozen states are participating.
Buckingham Coal operates two mines in southern Ohio, with about 250 employees. The miners work about 2,000 feet underground.
While the company has not had a rescue situation of its own, its team has helped with several high-profile incidents at other sites, such as the Sago Mine disaster in 2006 in West Virginia, in which 12 miners died. They were not involved in last year’s Upper Big Branch disaster that killed 29 miners, also in West Virginia.
Ohio has 11,900 people working in the mining and logging industries, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. While the industry is much smaller than it used to be, it remains an important part of the southern Ohio economy.
The most deadly mine disaster in Ohio history was in Athens County in 1930, killing more than 80 people, followed by one in Belmont County in 1940 that killed more than 70, according to the agency’s records. In recent decades, there have been mine fatalities in the state, but nothing approaching the scale of Sago or Upper Big Branch.
Recent disasters have led to new federal rules affecting mining equipment and rescue-team training. The competition, though it has been held at various sites for 100 years, gives the participants credit toward the new training requirements.
“Our hope is for them to be trained and never have to use their skills” in the field, said Kevin Stricklin, administrator for coal-mine safety with the Mine Safety and Health Administration. Like many of the people overseeing the event, he once worked in a mine.
The competition took place side-by-side with a trade show, with vendors seeking to show off mine-safety products. Among those represented at the trade show was Battelle, the Columbus-based research firm, which has several prototypes of machines for use by rescue teams.
One of the machines looks like a yellow inflatable raft. It expands into a tentlike structure that filters air and provides refuge for up to 96 hours.
The product is “the Jetsons solution,” said Rick Givens, a Battelle engineer, comparing the advanced technology to what is used today.
He has a personal stake in his work. His father was a coal miner who was part of his company’s rescue team.
He feels good to have the prototype, but “it would feel better if we had it out in the field.”