Mine rescuers travel miles in the dark, navigating underground tunnels filled with debris, amid poisonous and explosive gases. Their mission: Find missing miners or recover those who have died. The dangerous work performed after mine fires, explosions, or cave-ins is grueling and dangerous. Remarkably, it's also voluntary.
The U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) honors the commitment and sacrifice made by the 350 rescue teams that stand ready for 13,000 mines nationwide during the third annual Mine Rescue Day on October 30. The day promotes the importance of rescue work and acknowledges the teams of people, past and present, on the front lines of mine emergencies.
“I've seen the dedication and bravery of these rescue workers first hand in many mine emergencies and I can tell you this is a special breed.”
“The number of times that mine rescuers have placed their own safety and lives at risk to save others during our mining history is staggering," said Joseph Main, Assistant Secretary of Labor for Mine Safety and Health. "These brave men and women undertake some of the most difficult and risky emergency response work, under some of the most arduous and treacherous conditions."
Across the country, certified rescuer workers train in first aid, firefighting, and emergency communications. Rescue teams compete in mine rescue competitions nationwide to sharpen their skills and ready themselves for an actual emergency. Competitions and training materials are provided by the Holmes Mine Rescue Association, which hosts the national mine rescue championships each year.
The date chosen for Mine Rescue Day has historic significance. On Oct. 30, 1911, Dr. Joseph A. Holmes organized the first national mine rescue demonstration at Forbes Field in Pittsburgh. In 1910, President William Howard Taft appointed Holmes as the first director of the U.S. Bureau of Mines.
Since then, advances in training and technology have made mine rescues safer and more effective.
Today, wireless and fiber optic communication systems allow real-time discussion between rescue teams underground and officials at the surface command center.
“A long time ago rescue teams would go under ground, and you wouldn't know what they found or what was going on until they actually came outside,” said Kevin Stricklin, Administrator with MSHA Coal Mine Rescue and Health.
In 2010, MSHA launched an initiative to identify gaps in mine emergency readiness. With the involvement of mine rescue teams and government agencies, the initiative has led to significant advances in mine rescue including:
- State-of the-art technology that enables direct communication between the advancing mine rescue teams and the command center, while back-up rescue teams and others are kept informed
- New mapping technology that allows the command center and other rescuers to watch the progress of the advancing rescue team in real time
- New atmospheric monitoring technology featuring sensors that can be left at locations in the mine as rescuers move forward, or are forced to retreat, that will continue to transmit data
- Upgraded MSHA command centers designed to manage the new information streams and quickly relay critical information to others coordinating the mine emergency
"We owe these mining community volunteers the best training and support available. While mine safety has improved, an emergency can occur at any time that puts miners and rescuers alike at risk," Main said.
“A long time ago, rescue teams would go under ground and you wouldn't know what they found or what was going on until they actually came outside.”