Rob Beam is lucky to be alive. Last January, while performing his duties at Greenhills mine, he got on a coal truck, everything was business as usual. Going to dump his coal, the bank gave way behind him. The truck went over backwards, plummeted 60 feet, and nosedived into the ground. The cage did its job, and prevented Beam from being crushed, however his leg was pinned and he was bleeding badly. It took three hours for the Greenhills rescue team, a welding team as well as a mine rescue team from Fording River to extract Beam, who was conscious the whole time. He was immediately taken to Calgary where his leg was amputated.
“Those guys, they saved my life, they kept me alive,” said Beam. “I couldn’t have asked for a better outcome.”
This same mine rescue team from Greenhills scored the highest aggregate in the surface mine rescue competition at the 2017 National Western Region Mine Rescue Competition, which took place in Fernie, September 8-9.
Beam was with the Greenhills team all weekend, watching them perform to their utmost ability.
“Why do I do mine rescue?” said Greenhills team captain, Loren Langille, “Just for that reason right there. Beamer’s alive today, he gets to go home to his family, to his wife and his kids because we were there for him.”
Sixteen mine rescue teams from Canada and the United States participated in this two-day event.
The competition featured two main categories with several events within each. Ten surface rescue teams, and six underground rescue teams competed.
This mine rescue competition was introduced not long after the Westray Mine disaster in 1992, and has been well-attended ever since. It serves as an opportunity to not only test the skills of North America’s best mine rescue crews, but also give the public a glance into the everyday lives of these hardworking and dedicated individuals.
From Saskatchewan, two teams participated in the Surface Rescue Competition; Cameco Key Lake and Mosaic Belle Plain. From the Northwest Territories, Dominion Diamond Ekati Corp and Gahcho Kue’ (De Beers) competed. From Wyoming, Black Thunder Mine (Arch Coal) sent a team, and from Nevada, Barrick Cortez also made the trip north to compete. From Alberta, Canadian Natural Albian Sands, and Teck Cardinal River competed. Teck Elkview and Teck Greenhills Bulldogs represented B.C.
Mosaic Potash Esterhazy represented Saskatchewan in the Underground Mine Rescue Competition, Diavik and Dominion Diamond Ekati represented the Northwest Territories, and Hudbay Flin Flon represented Manitoba, alongside Vale. New Afton (New Gold) represented B.C.
“I want to thank you, in all the time you spent in training and education,” said Fernie Mayor Mary Giuliano at the banquet following the competition. “Thank you for your constant contribution to your workplace, your community, and to mine rescue competitions.”
Each team faced challenges in many different categories. All challenges carried through as planned, except for the fire challenges. Due to the high risk of open flame province-wide, it was decided that fire safety tests would be implemented in other ways throughout the challenges. Crews instead faced questions during challenges as to what they would do if faced by a certain fire situation. Teams still practiced creating foam to douse out an oil fire, but the challenge was not to put out a fire, but to fill a certain area with foam.
Challenges for the underground competition included the donning bench and mine problem – a task which simulated an underground mine rescue with unpredictable circumstances in which the team had to navigate and rescue personnel from the mine in the fastest time possible with the least amount of penalties.
Fire, smoke, explosive or poisonous gases, ground falls or water build-up were some of the challenges teams faced. Mosaic was awarded best obstacle/recovery, as well as best in fire challenge.
In the smoke challenge, team members were tasked with navigating an unfamiliar area without the use of their sight. Diavik were awarded best in this challenge.
A written exam covered every element of mine rescue work. Diavik also rose above the competition in this challenge.
Practical skills were tested in the areas of rope work, knots, gas detection, extrication, first aid tasks and apparatus assembly.
Ekati was awarded best in practical skills.
New Afton was awarded best first aid, as well as best technician. This gave them enough of a lead to take best overall in the underground category. When this was announced at the banquet, the entire team was ecstatic, evidently enthused about taking such a grand title in something which they are proud.
Surface mine rescue crews were also faced with many scenarios that put their skills to the test.
During the rope task, team members showcased their skills in rigging, rope handling and problem solving. They were tested with safely rigging a system to accommodate a heavy load, similar to what a rescue situation may require.
Best rope was awarded to Albian Sands, and best fire was awarded to Elkview Coal.
Surface rescue workers were also faced with a tough extrication task, which required them to extract trapped workers using a variety of equipment. Greenhills proved to be the best in this category.
A smoke/search task required rescue workers to identify trapped workers in low-visibility conditions with the use of a self-contained breathing apparatus. Gahcho Kue’ were named best in smoke/search.
A written exam, a practical skills test as well as a first aid task was also completed by every surface team. In this, Elkview Coal performed best in the written exam, as well the practical bench. Greenhills was awarded best in first aid.
The best overall team, named highest aggregate in the surface mine rescue competition, was Greenhills. Hearing this, the arena exploded into applause. This is the first time ever that Greenhills has won this award.
“It feels fantastic,” said Captain Langille, who has been a part of mine rescue since 2004. He said his team has preparing for this moment for a long time.
“The hard work that these guys put in, they deserve it, and I’m so proud of them,” said Mike Casault, supervisor of the health and safety program at Greenhills mine.