National Western Regional Mine Rescue Competition a blast

Rescue teams gathered from Canada and the Northwestern United States

  • Sep. 10, 2019 2:30 a.m.

By James Snell

The 14th Biennial National Western Region Mine Rescue Competition was held on Friday and Saturday at the Fernie Community Centre grounds and at the Aquatic Centre. The event promotes the practice and improvement of mine rescue in Canada and the Northwestern U.S., while establishing cooperation and expertise in underground and surface mining safety.

Teams from K+S Potash, Bethune Sask. / Coal Valley-Westmoreland, Edson Alta. / Highland Valley Copper (Teck), Logan Lake B.C. / CNRL Albian Sands, Fort McMurray Alta. / Mosaic Belle Plaine Sask. / Peabody North Antelope Rochelle, Wyoming USA. / Agnico Eagle Meadowbank, Baker Lake Nunavut. / Ciner, Green River Wyoming USA. / Teck Line Creek, Sparwood B.C. / Gahcho Kue De Beers, Yellowknife N.T. / Agnico Eagle Meliadine, Rankin Inlet Nunavut. / Diamonds in The Rough. / Diavik Diamond Mines, Yellowknife NWT. / Hudbay Flin Flon, Flin Flon Manitoba. / Hudbay Snow Lake, Snow Lake Manitoba. / Mosaic Potash Esterhazy, Esterhazy Sask. / New Gold – New Afton, Kamloops B.C. / Nutrien Cory, Saskatoon Sask. and Nyrstar Myra Falls, Campbell River B.C. attended.

Underground tasks included a smoke task, fire task, written exam, practical skills, first aid, and an underground bench task.

Tasks for the surface rescue competition spanned several disciplines, including a rope task, where team members tested their skills at rigging, rope handling and problem solving, an extrication task, where teams were tested on competencies related to extricating trapped workers, a smoke/search task, where teams searched for trapped workers in a building under limited visibility, a written exam, where teams were tested about general knowledge, a practical skills task, which tested specific competencies, a fire task, which tested firefighting, and first aid.

Event Coordinator Camille Neal was excited about this year’s event. Over the years she has transitioned from family spectator to event official.

“I started in February in the event coordinator roll,” she explained. “Mine rescue has been very dear to me, as my husband has been a mine rescuer for seven or eight years.”

Camille said that organizing the event was a massive undertaking.

“We have tons of volunteers. This event is huge,” she said. “Then we have the technical committee that organizes all the tasks. They bring in volunteers to build each task. Many man-hours go into this.”

Camille added that the mine rescue community is a tight-knit group of dedicated professionals.

“It’s amazing,” she said. “The mine rescue competitors are these highly intelligent and skilled competitors, who have a vast amount of knowledge. It’s all very exciting here with these mock scenarios, but at the end of the day, they are trained for emergencies that happen on [real] mine sites.”

Drew Abramo, Team Captain for North Antelope Rochelle Peabody in Wyoming, said that safety culture is the most important aspect of his job at North America’s largest open pit coal mine. He enjoyed the competition.

“Safety culture means pretty much everything,” he said.“We are part of the surface side of it. We are ‘A’ type personalities, and we get along great. We are on different rescue teams [at the mine]. We get to do this in return for training the other guys back home. I’ve been out there five years and I haven’t seen production take priority over safety.”

Jon Gale, an Emergency Response Coordinator with De Beers, said the competition is a great opportunity for his team.

“This is just a great way for our site and team to showcase their skills,” he said. “They spend a lot of time training and getting better at a variety of tasks.”

Gale added that safety culture is imperative at mine sites.

“A good safety culture is just making sure that everyone is looking out for each other… doing the right thing all the time. Safety is everyone’s responsibility.”

Surface winners:

Extrication – Highland Valley Copper, Teck

Fire – Westmoreland, Coal Valley

First Aid – Gahcho Kue, De Beers

Practical Skills – Highland Valley Copper, Teck

Ropes – Albian Sands, CNRL

Smoke/Search – Gahcho Kue, De Beers

Written – Line Creek, Teck

Overall – Gahcho Kue, De Beers

Underground winners:

Fire – Esterhazy K-1, Mosaic Potash

Donning/Obstacle Recovery – Esterhazy K-1, Mosaic Potash

Smoke/Search – Esterhazy K-1, Mosaic Potash

Practical Skills – Esterhazy K-1, Mosaic Potash

First Aid – Myra Falls, Nyrstar

Written – Rio Tinto, Diavik

Overall – Esterhazy K-1, Mosaic Potash

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