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8059Hilda Solis: Mine rescue teams are the unsung heroes of the mining community

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    Jul 27, 2010
      Hilda Solis: Mine rescue teams are the unsung heroes of the mining community

      Hilda Solis: Mine rescue teams are the unsung heroes of the mining community

      Reno Gazette-Journal

      July 27, 2010

      When an emergency situation unfolds in a local community, police, fire, and search and rescue units are among the first to respond. But what happens when disaster strikes below the Earth's surface? Mining hundreds of feet underground to extract valuable minerals presents numerous challenges and hazards.

      Few can forget the tragedy that unfolded last April when 29 miners were killed in an explosion at a West Virginia coal mine. But how many of us truly comprehend the relentless role that rescuers played as their search for the missing men spread out over several days?

      While safety in mining has improved over the years, the potential for danger always exists, and in the event of an emergency, only specialized groups of professionals can be called upon to help rescue miners who might be trapped and injured underground.

      Mine rescue teams spend countless hours preparing for a mine emergency they hope never happens. Mine rescue contests, held in mining communities throughout the country, enable these teams to sharpen their skills in a competitive environment.

      One such event begins today at the Reno-Sparks Convention Center. The 2010 Metal/Nonmetal National Mine Rescue Contest kicks off three days of competition, with nearly 40 mine rescue teams from 16 states. Eight of those teams are based right here in Nevada. The Mine Safety and Health Administration, an agency I oversee as secretary of labor, is the main sponsor of this event.

      The contest consists of several activities. In the field competition, teams must navigate through a simulated mine emergency while judges rate them on how well they adhere to mine rescue procedures and how quickly they complete specific tasks. In the first aid contest, emergency medical technicians tackle real-life scenarios. The technician team must make necessary checks of multi-gas instruments and self-contained breathing apparatuses for proper working condition, check the portable communication system to ensure that it works properly and check the available mine rescue equipment and supplies to ensure that they are in functional condition.

      Nevadans are no stranger to mining tragedies. Over the past 15 years, 47 miners have died in accidents at metal and nonmetal mines in this state, the most for any state in the country.

      In June 2007, a 30-year-old miner operating a load-haul-dump vehicle at an underground gold mine was killed when his vehicle fell through the floor into a void created by subsidence. Hazardous conditions complicated efforts to locate the miner, who had become engulfed in the collapsed ground. He was recovered nearly two weeks later.

      Mining tragedies bring home in a monumental way how essential rescue teams are during a rescue and recovery operation. Their bravery and commitment are unsurpassed and, knowing what may be at stake during an emergency, they nevertheless push themselves to the limit to protect and serve their fellow miners. They deserve our utmost respect and gratitude.

      Hilda L. Solis is the U.S. secretary of labor.


      U. S. Mine Rescue Association