PIKEVILLE — Over 500 miners and several hundred others gathered this week at Bob Amos Park to take part in a training exercise they hope to never use in real life.
The gathering was for the fifth annual installment of the Mine Rescue Competition and Training competition, sponsored by Kentucky Employers’ Mutual Insurance. During the event, mine rescue teams from across eight states took part in a competition to rescue miners from a simulated mine disaster.
The purpose of the event was twofold — to satisfy annual training requirements all mine rescue teams must meet and, more importantly, to give teams a chance to hone their skills, in the event they need to use them in an actual emergency.
“They’re essentially training for situations they may have never faced before …” said KEMI communication manager Ryan
Worthen. “But if these guys come out here and prepare for these situations, they’re less like to make a mistake and get injured in real life.”
The event began Monday with a golf scramble, followed Tuesday by bench, first aid and pre-shift competitions. But it was clear that the main event was the mine rescue competition, which took place Wednesday and Thursday.
Representatives of the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration and state Office of Mine Safety and Licensure served as judges. Freddie Lewis, executive director of OMSL, had nothing but praise for those taking part.
“The mine rescue team members are probably some of the most unselfish people in the United States,” Lewis said. “These guys are ready to get up at 3 a.m. and leave their wives and children at home to go to a coal mine fire. And they might not know anyone in that mine, but they are willing and ready to sacrifice their lives, family and everything to rescue a fellow coal miner.
“On behalf of the state of Kentucky, we would like to extend our appreciation to each and every one that is here today to participate, judge, and support our great mine rescue teams in this state.”
However, hanging like a cloud over the event was a noticable absence. Due to the loss of around 1,000 coal mining jobs in recent weeks, several teams were not there to compete because their members no longer had jobs.
“It’s very sad to see this, because we lost nine teams that were scheduled to compete, but due to layoffs are no longer together,” Lewis said.
In all, 46 teams from Kentucky, West Virginia, Virginia, Tennessee, Indiana, Illinois, Pennsylvania and Alabama took part in the competition, down from the 55 that had previously been scheduled.
But there was also positive news out of the event — the financial impact the competition had on the local economy. Because many of the 500 miners and others travelled great distances to get to the event, many had to stay in local hotels and left their money behind by purchasing food, gas and entertainment in the region.
“Every hotel from here to Prestonsburg is booked solid for several days,” Worthen said. “Restaurants have a one- or two-hour wait. Gas stations are extremely busy.”