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736Labor secretary praises mine-rescue teams who competed at fairgrounds

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  • Rob McGee
    Sep 20 2:04 AM
      Labor secretary praises mine-rescue teams who competed at fairgrounds

      By CHRIS POYNTER
      cpoynter@...
      The Courier-Journal


      BY BILL LUSTER, THE COURIER-JOURNAL

      Energy West Mining Co. workers from Huntington, Utah, took part in the mine-rescue contest at the Kentucky Fair & Exposition Center. The event ended last night with a banquet attended by Labor Secretary Elaine Chao.

      When nine trapped coal miners were pulled alive from a mine in Pennsylvania last year, the nation had rescue workers to thank, Labor Secretary Elaine Chao said last night in Louisville.

      "Our nation appreciates what you do, and we thank you," Chao told several hundred people attending the 2003 Mine Rescue contest, sponsored by the Labor Department's Mine Safety and Health Administration.

      The six-day event ended last night at the Kentucky Fair & Exposition Center with an awards banquet attended by Chao, wife of U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell of Louisville, and mine-rescue teams from several states

      It was the first time that a sitting labor secretary attended the awards banquet, said Dave Lauriski, assistant secretary of labor for mine safety and health.

      "There are so many unsung heroes in the room tonight," Chao said, noting that the last two years have been the safest in the history of mining.

      The 40 rescue teams competing this week had to solve hypothetical mine emergencies ranging from fires to explosions.

      The teams were scored according to how quickly and effectively they contained the problem and how closely they adhered to safety procedures.

      Consol Energy's Enlow Fork Mine, of West Finley, Pa., was the top winner in the rescue competition.

      Individuals and teams also competed in other events, such as first aid and benchmen, the name given to people who maintain rescue equipment. During the benchmen competition, miners had to inspect breathing devices that had been tampered with and then correct the defects.

      During last night's banquet the crowd was reminded of the seriousness of their jobs as video clips from the Pennsylvania rescue in July 2002 were played on theater-sized screens. The clips showed the nine miners being pulled from underground one by one — and President Bush later calling mine-rescue workers Americans at their best.

      J. P. Richardson, 29, and his seven-member team from Jewell Smokeless Coal Corp. in Vansant, Va., were among those competing in this week's event, held every two years in Louisville.

      Richardson has been on his mine-rescue team for six years but has never had to participate in a real-life rescue.

      "Fortunately, we don't use our skills on a frequent basis," he said.

      Richardson said, however, that this week's contests help rescue workers brush up on their techniques.

      "These contests sharpen your skills so when a real accident happens, you are prepared," he said.