More than 70 trained volunteers and mine rescue personnel from local, state and federal agencies took part in a Mine Emergency Response Drill (MERD) competition Tuesday at the No. 9 Mine in Lansford.
During the competition, officials with the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA), were placed at numerous locations inside and outside the mine, testing the abilities of three mine rescue teams. Each of the three teams, all from Anthracite Underground Rescue in Tremont, was comprised of coal or stone miners.
"Mine rescuers faced numerous obstacles while in the mine, such as simulated smoke, lack of oxygen, as well as having to rescue and treat an injured dummy" said Bill Dean, emergency response training specialist, Pennsylvania Bureau of Mine Safety (PA BOMS). "It is a very involved process designed to test the teams abilities on various aspects of training and skills."
Teams were also given a written test prior to going in the mine.
"A normal response time to a mine emergency ranges from 8 to 10 hours and is handled primarily by trained rescuers in the local mine," said Bruce Trego, program manager, Pennsylvania Incident Management Team (PA-IMT) as he sat with other representatives in eight state agencies inside the PA-IMT trailer.
"In worse cases, local and other resources are brought in to help in the rescue and support of the operation."
On scene during the training competition were officials from Pennsylvania's Department of Environmental Protection, PA BOMS, MSHA, Carbon Emergency Management Agency, Schuylkill Emergency Management Agency (SEMA), Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency, Federal Emergency Management Agency, State Fire Marshal Unit, No. 9 Mine staff and volunteers, Anthracite Protective Services and others.
Officials utilized special mobile command units and equipment throughout the drill.
"We do this twice a year," Dean said, "as per MSHA requirements, which also requires an additional 96 hours of training."
The BOMS has four rescue stations, three for bituminous mine training (Uniontown, Ebansburg and Marian Center); and one for anthracite mine training (Tremont).
"We (PA BOMS) and DEP provide equipment and access to other resources, the mines are required to provide people," Joseph Sbaffoni, director, PA BOMS, said.
"The drill is required by state and federal regulations that require rescuers to undergo a special competition to test their exploration, extrication and first aid skills during a mine rescue," said Dean.
"We have teams ready to respond to both the bituminous and anthracite regions," added Sbaffoni. "In a mine emergency, the mine operator would be required to contact their respective agencies as well as do what they can via their emergency response plan."
He added that the most important things in a mine emergency are to identify miners and get good information, pointing out that each incident can vary greatly depending on the type of mine. At times, repelling would be required by the rescuers. He added that there hasn't been an underground mine fatality since 2009.
During the mine drill, rescue miners utilized the Dräger BG 4, which is a closed-circuit breathing apparatus that is independent of air surrounding and is designed for extended use in environments of a toxic nature. The exhaled carbon dioxide is absorbed by soda lime and oxygen is continuously added and not guided outside as it would be in other breathing apparatus with pressure gauges. But in the rebreather it's maintained within the circuit. This unit will last up to four hours depending on the activity of the user. Compressed oxygen is used for the oxygen supply.
Members of both Schuylkill and Carbon EMA were on scene providing logistical support to other responding agencies.
"We respond and assist with communications and management resources," said Rick Deal, emergency planning and logistical specialist, SEMA.
They utilized a 360 degree rotating camera that shot up from their Incident Support Command Unit to see the entire site from high above.
"We come in support of Carbon's EMA," said John Matz, coordinator, SEMA. "We routinely help in nearby communities."
Officials expressed their appreciation to the No. 9 Mine and its volunteers for providing location support during the drill. They also thanked Lehigh Anthracite Coal for providing food and refreshment to all the responders and Anthracite Protective Services for providing EMT and security services during the drill.
"We hope we never have to get into a situation like this," Sbaffoni said, "but it is best to be prepared."