Smoke billows from the burning wreckage of a car as an injured woman screams for help. Nearby, an excavator driver suffers a stroke and collides with a train car, sending a worker toppling inside.
These mock emergencies set the scene for the 98th annual East Kootenay Mines Industrial Safety Association (EKMISA) Mine Rescue Competition held in Fernie on Saturday, May 11.
Each task was designed by the emergency preparedness coordinator from the four Teck Coal sites – Elkview, Line Creek, Greenhills and Fording River – to test the skills of local mine rescue teams.
“We try to make it interesting, something that the teams haven’t necessarily seen, so we challenge them to grow and push them out of their comfort zone, but of course keep them safe,” said Steve Kallies, event organizer and EKMISA treasurer.
The tasks were kept top secret and teams were forbidden from speaking to outsiders during the competition.
They had an hour to complete each task and their responses were evaluated using a points system, with patient and team member safety a top priority.
The competition was held at the Fernie Aquatic Centre and attracted hundreds of spectators and supporters, who enjoyed a free barbecue thanks to sponsor Finning.
Kallies described it is as a “giant training exercise” for mine rescue teams, as well as an opportunity to showcase their skills.
“They work really hard all year and you can see the public is out here checking it out,” he said.
“Really, it’s about being able to respond to sometimes the most difficult things you would face in an industrial atmosphere and that would be an industrial accident.
“We want to make sure that we provide the best possible emergency response for the people that we work with, they’re all our friends, and our co-workers and our family.”
It takes a certain type of person to be in mine rescue, according to Kallies.
Firstly, they must have the desire to help and ability to cope in emergency situations. Then, there’s the training,
“It’s incredible the amount of training that goes into it,” said Kallies.
“You don’t get your ticket and then that’s the end of it. Essentially, that’s just the beginning, so it’s ongoing training, exposure to events like this and, unfortunately, responding to actual injured people.”
Fording River scored highest in both the three-person first aid and six-person mine rescue team, and was named the overall winner.
Line Creek placed second, also qualifying for provincials in Williams Lake on June 1.
In September, the best mine rescue teams in Western Canada will convene in Fernie for nationals. Kallies said this is considered the Stanley Cup of mine rescue.
“The first competition in Canada was held here on the lawn of the City Hall, so that’s why Fernie hosts that,” he said.
“This is our 98th annual competition. Our 100th will be here again in Fernie and we want to hold it in the same place where the original one was held 100 years ago.”
Kallies thanked event sponsors Teck and Finning for their support.