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Front Page » March 22, 2007 » Local News » Brigades preparing to respond to mine blazes
Published 3,127 days ago

Brigades preparing to respond to mine blazes

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Sun Advocate reporter

Miner Rick Borg checks his gauge as he performs a negative pressure check on his self-contained breathing apparatus at a training session at UtahAmerican's Tower division.

At the Tower division operation of UtahAmerican Energy, 10 miners received introduction to firefighting on March 20.

The miners are part of a larger group of 80 miners who have been or will be trained to fight fires in underground coal mines.

UtahAmerican Energy is the Utah subsidiary of Murray Energy and was created last year when Robert Murray purchased mining operations formerly owned by Andalex Resources.

Mining operations for the company include C Canyon Mine, which is part of the company's Westridge division; Aberdeen and Pinnacle mines, both part of the Tower division; and Crandell Mine in Emery County.

The Castle Valley is no stranger to effects of a mine fire. One of the worst mine fire accidents in the nation occurred in December 1984 at the Wilberg Mine in Emery County.

Of the 28 people who were underground at the longwall when the fire broke out, one employee survived.

"We want to improve and upgrade protection, prevention and response," said Bill Moser, manager of emergency preparation for Murray Energy.

He said the company's plan is to assign six to 10 equipped and trained firefighters on each shift at each of the mine operations in the Carbon-Emery region.

The 80 trained firefighters are in addition to mine rescuers who would respond to an emergency at a mine.

On the equipment side, Moser said the company has purchased hundreds of thousands of dollars in equipment so fire brigades will have the tools they need in a fire.

In many ways, the firefighters on each mining shift will function similar to a volunteer fire department.

Each firefighter will continue to operate in their normal capacity at the mine. However, when a fire breaks out, the group will be the first called to the scene.

Moser explained that the response for mine rescuers can be as long as four hours.

Miners get their first experience using self-contained breathing apparatus in a training exercise on March 20 at the UtahAmerican Tower division. Trainees learned that the SCBA units will provide ample air even under high activity levels. After completing the training course, trained miners will be part of small fire brigades on each shift at each of the company's three Carbon-Emery area mines.

Under the program at UtahAmerican's mines, fire brigades can respond within minutes instead of hours.

When a home or business catches fire, property owners expect a response within minutes. If a public safety dispatcher told a homeowner that the fire department would respond in four hours, that would be unacceptable, said Moser.

Furthermore, once mine rescuers arrived at the scene, Moser explained that many rescuers lack firefighting skills. That's why Moser plans to train mine rescuers within the company with a similar program.

Still, most rescuers won't arrive until a fire has taken its course, possible taking lives and damaging property. So the brigades become an essential part of limiting injuries, casualties and damage if a fire breaks out underground.

Tuesday's training included an overview of the program and an introduction to the self-contained breathing apparatus supplied by the company.

Later in series, trainees will experience the extreme heat and smoke of an underground blaze when they learn firefighting techniques in a simulated underground fire.

But the training is not just centered around firefighting.

The preferable scenario to protect coal miners and infrastructure is no fires at all. To keep fires to a minimum, the brigades will be trained on prevention and charged with helping to prevent incidents.

Trained brigade members will be able to assist in safety inspections and maintaining firefighting equipment and appliances.

Murray Energy started training miners at other company facilities as early as 2001.

Moser taught mine safety at West Virginia University before joining Murray Energy. Moser said he has seen many miners in the fire brigade training courses whose faces he recognized from his time at the university.

Other miners in the course are also trained firefighters in their own communities. Tad Fausett, who was at Tuesday's training is also a volunteer firefighter for Price.

In the six years since starting fire brigades within the company, Moser said there have been four instances where fire brigades successfully protected lives and property by extinguishing fires at company mine facilities.

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