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Sudbury Accent: Mine rescue draws the best and brightest

By Carol Mulligan

Jun 11, 2016

John Lappa/Sudbury Star Vale West Mines team members check their breathing apparatus while taking part in a mine rescue scenario at the annual Provincial Mine Rescue Competition at NORCAT's underground training centre in Onaping on Friday.

 

A mine rescue team at Fecunis Mine near Onaping has been called by mine management to stand by while a new emergency warning system is tested underground.
 
All workers in the mine are expected to report in when a warning is sounded, but on this occasion three fail to do so.
 
No one is alarmed because the miners may not have smelled the stench gas released as warning when something goes wrong underground or heard the siren that was sounded.
 
The mine rescue team forms two parties of three to search for the missing miners.
 
As they enter the mine, they are alarmed at the sound of an explosion. One of the three missing miners detonated a development blast when he shouldn't have.
 
The team meets the miner who tells them he blasted a round. He then tried to switch on a 36-inch diameter fan to clear gas from the blasted area, but it wouldn't start, so he decided to exit the mine.
 
The search party and the miner leave, but the situation has been upgraded to emergency because gases from the blast are contaminating the mine. The team is asked by management to go into emergency mode, so members don masks and other equipment before setting off to investigate.
 
The team searches and finds the two miners who didn't report. They were working on a fan in another area of the mine when the blast occurred. When the development miner tried to start the fan where he was, he accidentally triggered the second fan, and one of the two workers there became tangled in the blades.
 
The trapped miner is asking for help and his partner is in shock. Mine rescuers extricate the man from the fan and send him to hospital by ambulance. His partner is also taken to hospital suffering from the emotional trauma of witnessing the incident.
 
With the missing miners located and dispatched for medical treatment, the mine rescue team investigates the area where the blast occurred. It finds a small fire fuelled by improperly stored timber and other materials.
 
The team's last task is to extinguish the fire and remove contaminants from the mine so workers underground at refuge stations can leave. The mine rescue team doesn't know it, but its job is not done yet.
 
It returns to the mine rescue station where members wash their gear, and put it away, ready for the next emergency. They set out for the Onaping rescue station a short distance away. Five minutes into the drive, they are directed to take a detour at the intersection of the side road and the Onaping highway.
 
There, the team comes upon the scene of a collision between a construction loader and a pickup truck. The team is expected to assist.
 
Fortunately it has with it the extrication equipment used underground at Fecunis. They use the Jaws of Life to get the driver of one of the crashed vehicles out so he can be taken to hospital. The team can now rest.
 
That simulated scenario was repeated seven times in two days at the 67th Annual Provincial Mine Rescue Competition, held in and around the NORCAT Training Centre at the former Fecunis Mine near Onaping.
 
No lives were hanging in the balance in the exercise that tested the mettle of Ontario's top seven mine rescue teams, but there was a great deal riding on the competition. The winning team was to be announced Friday evening at an awards dinner wrapping up the event.
 
All teams had their eye on the main prize -- the opportunity to represent Ontario in the International Mine Rescue Competition, which will be held in Sudbury from Aug. 19-26. It is the first time the competition has been held in Canada.
 
Ted Hanley is general manager of Ontario Mine Rescue, a program legislated under Ministry of Labour mining regulations. Workplace Safety North in Sudbury is the parent company that administers the program.
 
A mining engineer by trade, Hanley worked in Timmins at Glencore Kidd Operations in 2006 as a student and stayed until 2014 when he left to work with Ontario Mine Rescue. He got involved in mine rescue at the start of his career.
 
Mine rescue appeals to many workers, whether they are engineers or underground miners, Hanley said Friday on site at the provincial competition at the NORCAT Training Centre.
 
"There's a sense you want to be able to assist if something goes wrong in an underground mine," said Hanley.
 
There is no other work environment like it. You can walk away from a burning building or an accident scene, but you can become trapped in a mine when something goes wrong.
 
"Most people who work in that environment in some way have a desire to assist, and the best you can be trained is in Ontario Mine Rescue," said Hanley.
 
The number of trained mine rescue workers depends on the size of the workforce of the mines, a percentage of those who work underground. Vale Ltd. has between 75 and 85 mine rescue workers; Glencore and KGHM have 120-130 combined.
 
Each one takes an intensive, week-long, 40-hour course to be certified as an active mine rescue volunteer. To maintain that designation, they must complete six annual recertifications.
 
Competitions like the one held in Sudbury this week pit the best and the brightest from seven divisions in Ontario against each other. The event isn't just fun. It's an opportunity for rescuers to maintain and improve their skills, and to have their performance evaluated in the absence of real-life emergencies.
 
"The teams that are participating in these competitions have gone the extra mile and volunteered to become the highest competency of mine rescue volunteers they can become," said Hanley.
 
Ontario Mine Rescue was established in 1929 and competitions have been held in Ontario since the 1950s. Participants are virtually sworn to secrecy about the simulated emergency of a competition, and there's little fear of anyone breaching that confidentiality.
 
No competitor wants to ruin the fun for other participants and they want it to be a fair contest.
 
A twist was added to this year's provincial competition. After teams completed what they thought was the entire exercise, they encountered the "collision" between two vehicles on their way back to the Onaping rescue station.
 
Competition organizers aim to keep competitors on their toes, but members are trained to such a high level, they are prepared to react in an emergency whether it's in a mine or in "real life," said Hanley.
 
Each team in the provincial contest competed in the same mine, with the same equipment and with identical timelines so all could be evaluated for their decision-making and for their performance.
 
The first task in mine rescue is to establish a safe plan and procedure for the team, and decide how to tackle an emergency scenario.
 
"They're trained and we expect them to demonstrate those skills in an unexpected situation," said Hanley.
 
Competitors are evaluated on first aid skills, the use of extrication equipment, firefighting and other factors. Part of the contest is a mine rescue theory exam teams that was written Wednesday. It's an intensive week in which teams "prepare for the worst and hope for the best."
 
Each team competes for about four hours, equipped with breathing apparatus for two to three of those hours.
 
When the teams in this competition were brought back to surface, they were tired but happy the simulated emergency was over, but of course there was that added twist.
 
Twenty-three teams vied for the seven spots in the provincial competition so there is a great deal of pride among team members for getting this far. The competing teams are Sudbury INO, a Glencore company (Onaping district); Vale Canada Ltd., West Mines (Sudbury district); Compass Mineral, Goderich Mine (southern district); Goldcorp Canada, Red Lake Gold Mines (Red Lake district); North American Palladium, Lac des Iles Mine (Thunder Bay-Algoma district); Lake Shore Gold, Timmins district; and Alamos Gold Inc., Young Davidson Mine (Kirkland Lake district).
 
Vale and Glencore are "heavy favourites every year," said Hanley of the teams comprised of some of the best mine rescuers in Ontario.
 
Sudbury and Onaping mine rescue teams are highly trained. "There's a lot of mine emergency memory ... a lot of history to pass on generation to generation, which results in fantastic teams."
 
Employees volunteer for mine rescue and work their regular jobs until they're called upon in an emergency.
 
Ontario Mine Rescue took part in a study with York University's Mary Waller, a professor of organizational studies and director of the school's Schulich Centre for Teaching Excellence.
 
Waller tracked mine rescue teams for three years, evaluating what made them perform best. Waller concluded teams that are close-knit are most efficient because they are able to assign tasks and operate independently while communicating well within the group.
 
"It takes a lot of work to get to that point," said Hanley.
 
As mine emergencies decrease, it's increasingly important for rescue teams to take part in simulations that challenge them. While there may be fewer emergencies, they are just as severe when they occur.
 
Competitions offer standardized evaluation that allows administrators of Ontario Mine Rescue to determine if their training is effective or if it needs improvement. "We get to compare every mine in the province and understand who's thinking along the right path, who would attack an emergency correctly and where we have a gap to fill," said Hanley.
 
Teams who enter competitions want to win, but the prize for many is the extra training that goes along with it.
 
"In a perfect world, I would only see these guys at a competition, but unfortunately we see each other at emergencies when they're called."
 
Ontario mining companies have a strong tradition of investing in employee mine rescue teams. It's not so everywhere. "In some jurisdictions in the world, you almost have to twist their arm to be prepared for emergencies. Ontario has some of the best mining companies in the world and that's not me blowing smoke," said Hanley. "So it lets us sleep easy at night because they're well prepared."
 
Ontario Mine Rescue and Workplace Safety North received confirmation in November 2014 that Sudbury had been chosen to host the 2016 International Mine Rescue Competition. This contest will be the first one in the world in which the action will be underground. In most other countries, the competitions are held in arenas.
 
"There's nothing more realistic than an underground mine," said Hanley, but that means the Sudbury-hosted event will be limited to 30 teams participating. The international event is awarded annually to communities that serve as mining hubs for their countries.
 
Several dignitaries will attend including Ontario Labour Minister Kevin Flynn, whom Hanley said is a strong supporter of mine rescue. He will welcome international guests to the competition.
 
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has been invited and "he's considering it," said Hanley. Trudeau enjoys "taking a trip down memory lane where his father visited," said Hanley of Pierre Elliot Trudeau, Canada's prime minister from April 1968 to June 1979 and March 1980-84.
 
The elder Trudeau visited Sudbury in the late 1960s and 1970s, and went underground at several mines in the city.
 
By 10 a.m. Friday, the two-day competition was running several hours behind schedule. Awards for long-time service, firefighting, first aid and the use of special equipment were to be handed out at the dinner, but the prize teams wanted most was the overall one and the honour of representing the province internationally.
 
"I'm happy if they perform well in the task. That's what satisfies me," said Hanley. "The winners and losers can sometimes be a little bit heart-breaking because the teams do so well, they're so close. (But) one team does walk away with the coveted gold hard hats."
 
CMulligan@postmedia.com
 
Twitter @CarolDMulligan
 

Source: http://www.thesudburystar.com/2016/06/11/sudbury-accent-mine-rescue-draws-the-best-and-brightest