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Middlesboro mine hosts mock rescue drill

MIDDLESBORO — Safety is a chief concern for coal mining operations all over the country. Recently, miners at Mosley Spur Mine in Middlesboro took steps to ensure that, if there is ever an emergency, they will be prepared.

"I don't know if you can ever be fully prepared (for a disaster)," said Bell County Coal Human Resource and Safety Manager Lonnie Wilder, "but you can train as much as possible."

The simulated emergency was the first of its kind at Mosley Spur, which is in the southeast corner of Kentucky near the Tennessee and Virginia borders. Fourteen miners pretended to be trapped underground as the drill used smoke machines to simulate an equipment explosion.

For the purpose of the mock emergency response, nine miners reported back in good condition, one reported major burns, and four were considered missing. Rescue teams were sent out about 8 a.m. to find the miners at their last known locations. By 8:45, the teams had recovered the "burn victim" and the other nine miners. The four "missing" men were found soon after.

Wilder said the drill's purpose was to practice coordinating all the parts of the operation, from the response teams to security to the miners underground. Emergency helicopters were on standby. According to Wilder, the drill went very well and teams moved far ahead of schedule.

Wilder said the self-contained self-rescue devices that miners take with them underground, to provide oxygen in case of emergency, were assembled by miners flawlessly.

"Everyone had them on within a minute," said Wilder. "That's fantastic."

The mock emergency drill included teams from Bell County Coal, Shamrock, Bledsoe, Blue Diamond, Lee Coal, and McCoy Elkhorn coal companies. All are owned by James River Coal Corp. Officials from the Mine Safety and Health Association oversaw the drill.

Larry Partin, an electrician at the company, played the role of a trapped miner. He said that the smoke machines covered everything underground, including the "injured" miner the rescuers were trying to find.

"You can see how it easy it is to be lost underground," said C.K. Lane, chief operations officer for James River Coal.

The men challenged with rescuing their co-workers learned how they would need to react in a real mine disaster. Jessie Murray, a mechanic and electrician at the company, said that the simulated explosion gave good insight. Murray was with two other men who searched for the miners near the secondary escapeway.

In a real emergency, the difficult task would be controlling all the individual teams. That's why the drill was not only practice for rescuers underground, but for directors outside of the mine.

"Headquarters has the responsibility for the mine rescue to get the injured man and crew outside safely," said Wilder.

The greatest benefit of the drill is the chance to learn from any mistakes. Safety Director Pearl Farler said that the areas that needed concentration include the placement of people and communication between parties.

Wilder said that the greatest obstacle for those involved under ground was the fear factor.

"In an actual situation, so many different situations can arise," said Wilder.