Elkview Operations mine rescue team member Justin Surine delivers the closing words and prayer at the National Day of Mourning ceremony in Sparwood, Sunday. Kimberley Vlasic/The Free Press

Elk Valley mine worker’s death still painful for colleagues

Union, mine rescue team pay tribute to fallen colleague on the National Day of Mourning

Justin Surine is no stranger to workplace deaths.

At the tender age of 14, he witnessed a tractor accident on his father’s farm, which claimed the life of a young college student.

As a member of the Elkview Operations mine rescue team, Surine was also on scene when Teck employee Stefan Falzon was fatally injured in a vehicle collision at the Sparwood mine on November 18.

LOOK BACK: Fernie to remember victim of coal mine collision

“The day we lost Stef still feels really fresh and that hurts still, really deep,” he admitted to the crowd gathered at Titan Park for the National Day of Mourning memorial ceremony, Sunday.

“Being on scene that day was super, super heavy for me because I knew that across town from my house, there was a house just like mine. There would be a knock on the door and a wife and two little kids, just like mine, were going to be dealt the news that the person that is most important in their whole world had been taken away from them.”

Falzon was among two workers killed on the job in the Elk Valley last year and five in the East Kootenay.

LOOK BACK: Elk Valley mine deaths prompt safety initiatives

For Surine, Falzon’s death was a poignant reminder of the fragility of life.

“I went home that night and I held my wife with a sense of gratitude that I had never experienced before and I didn’t let my kids out of my arms for probably three days after that,” he said.

United Steelworkers (USW) Local 9346 Health and Safety Chair, Alex Hanson, knew Falzon as a union representative, mine rescue team member and competent leader.

He offered his condolences to the family, friends and colleagues of Falzon, as well as Pat Dwyer, who died in a workplace incident at Fording River Operations in April last year.

“They were one of us and our hearts grieve at their departure,” said Hanson.

He also thanked the safety professionals among the crowd for their efforts to keep workers healthy and safe.

“It is pretty clear that we don’t always get it right, unfortunately. And when we don’t get it right, sometimes those consequences are severe,” he said.

“I’m asking for your continued commitment in the memory of both Stef and Pat.”

Several fundraisers for the Falzon family were set up in the wake of Stefan’s death, with over $17,000 raised so far.

The union is still accepting donations on behalf of the family. Donate via e-transfer using the email unionassistance@usw9346.ca.

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