Blacksburg hosts mine rescue team competition
BLACKSBURG – Mine rescue teams from across the country met in Blacksburg this week to compete in the Virginia Mining Institute’s (VMI) Safety Day Contests which spanned three days.
Blacksburg Parks and Recreation department hosted VMI and 36 mine teams from eight states at the Blacksburg Community Center. Teams came from all over the United States, from Illinois to Alabama, Wayne Davis said. Davis is a Ventilation Specialist for the Virginia Division of Mines, Minerals and Energy.
The event has been held in Blacksburg every year for more than 30 years.
Davis said the Blacksburg Community Center facility is one of the best sites they’ve been to and is exactly why VMI returns year after year.
“There’s a lot for the teams to do when they come here besides competition,” Davis said. “Families can go places, golfers can go play golf and there are so many activities the teams can be involved in.”
Davis said the three-day event not only serves as a fun, competitive atmosphere, but is required by law.
Each mining operation must have two rescue teams with at least six members on each team. Davis said some companies call for volunteers to join teams while others choose and vote on new team members. Mine rescue teams must complete 96 hours of training per year and attend two competitions to satisfy legal obligations by their mining company, Davis said.
“We take pride in laying out a simulated drill that not only the mine rescue teams are proud to work, but one they learn from,” Davis said. “In learning they prepare themselves for an actual disaster, which we don’t want.”
Davis said the competition teaches mine rescue teams how to work together, analyze what they’re seeing, what they’re working with and the gases they encounter. Ultimately, Davis hopes the mine rescue teams are able to work together to ventilate a mine after a disaster and save lives.
“It helps them be able to locate, identify and extricate victims,” Davis said. “The end result is, our miners are trained the best way they can be, so if something does happen, people who are trapped can be assured these mine rescue teams are going to give everything they’ve got.”
Mine Rescue Trainer Lewis Mills said the competition also places pressure on teams who want to come out and do well during the competition, the same kind of pressure they can expect to have when they go to a disaster and see smoke coming out of a mine entrance.
“The men who come out here in 95 degree weather under oxygen and bust their tail out here are the same people who will follow you into a mine fire and perform well there,” Mills said.
Last year’s champion, Cumberland River Blue Team of Kentucky, returned to the competition with high hopes. Team member, Chris Couch, said his team received high marks over the first two days and hoped for a repeat.
But, for Couch, the event is about more than just competing and winning.
“It teaches teamwork and skills for how to react to certain situations under timed events,” Couch said. “The main thing is that it prepares you for a real-life situation and gives you an opportunity to be able to react under pressure.”
For Couch, and other members of mine rescue teams, mine rescue demands dedication.
“It’s like having a full-time job,” Couch said. “There’s also a lot of study time that goes into it.”
Davis said being on a mine rescue team is like an athlete devoting their time to a sport.
“It’s a great commitment,” Davis said. “You’re either all in, or all out.”
“The end result is, our miners are trained the best way they can be, so if something does happen, people who are trapped can be assured these mine rescue teams are going to give everything they’ve got.”
The Roanoke Times | 381-8627
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