Environmental and Public Protection Cabinet
20 mine rescue teams undergo training in simulation of underground disaster
PIKEVILLE, Ky. (April 27, 2007) – Twenty mine rescue teams underwent realistic training this week – a simulated gas explosion in which miners are trapped in smoke-filled passages deep inside a mine in Pike County.
The Mine Emergency Response Drill, which was months in the planning by the Kentucky Office of Mine Safety and Licensing (OMSL), was conducted Monday through today at the former Johns Creek Energy Mine, owned by Sidney Coal Co., in northern Pike County.
Teams drilled each day on the same scenario: a mining crew has accidentally cut into a gas well, causing an explosion. Two miners escape, but seven are trapped.
The rescue teams – four each day – worked in rotation. They restored ventilation and constantly monitored air in the mine while advancing toward the “victims” 2,000 feet underground. The rescuers worked “under apparatus” – meaning they wore breathing devices – and had to fight through blinding smoke produced by a special machine.
“It’s as close as it gets to the real thing,” said Curtis Hall, supervisor of OMSL’s Hazard District.
Hall was among those who took turns manning a “command center” outside the mine, where each rescue team’s progress was carefully charted. Information was relayed to “family members” at a nearby church and to the state Emergency Operations Center in Frankfort in teleconferenced briefings.
Briefings originated from a state-of-the-art mobile command vehicle deployed outside the mine by Kentucky Emergency Management (KyEM), with support from the Kentucky National Guard.
The command vehicle is specially outfitted with a satellite uplink. It also provided radio communication between the mine and Pike County’s 911 dispatch center.
“We certainly appreciated the opportunity to be a part of this exercise,” said Wayne Mullannix, KyEM Training Branch supervisor. “It provided a very realistic scenario and allowed us to test our communications equipment and capabilities. You hope you never have to use the lessons learned from these exercises, but it certainly helps prepare for when you do.”
In addition to Hall and other OMSL supervisors, the command center was staffed each day by personnel from the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration and the various coal companies that sent teams – ICG Coal, Sidney Coal, Perry County Coal, Webster County Coal, Cardinal Coal, Bledsoe Coal, Peabody Coal, Lone Mountain Processing, Excel Coal and Paramount Coal. Teams also came from all six OMSL districts – Pikeville, Martin, Hazard, Harlan, Barbourville and Madisonville. Some companies sent two teams each.
Kentucky conducts periodic mine emergency response drills, but the exercise this week was the first in which the KyEM mobile command vehicle provided communications support.
Teresa J. Hill, secretary of the Environmental and Public Protection Cabinet, parent agency of OMSL, watched part of the drill from inside the mine on Wednesday.
“Governor Ernie Fletcher has made mine safety a priority and we have seen Kentucky take the lead in passing mine safety legislation,” Hill said. “But it is critically important that rescue teams train underground, encountering the conditions they would face in a real rescue effort. I am pleased so many teams participated in the drill and know they gained valuable experience.”