As I write this column, we are still waiting for news about the six miners trapped in the Crandall Canyon Mine.
It has been a week since a "seismic event" filled the mine tunnels with rubble, and still we have no news about the fate of the missing men. Our hopes and prayers are with them, their families, and the rescue crews.
Such tragedies always come as a shock, and yet, they are never unexpected. Those of us who live in this valley and make our living from the mining industry, know that it is always just a matter of time before another "incident" will happen. The question is never "if" - but when, where, and how bad? Accidents have always been a part of mining. We know and understand that.
So why do we do it? Some members of the news media seem surprised that people actually choose to work in the coal mines. Why would anyone willingly work inside a dark, damp, and endless maze of tunnels, deep inside the guts of a mountain? Why would anyone work under a roof that weighs a million tons, where everything is covered with rock dust and the very air you breathe is pumped in from several miles away? Why would anyone daily risk the dangers of gas explosions, roof falls, high voltage electricity, black damp (bad air), fires, moving chains, cables, and heavy equipment in the dark, just to receive a paycheck?
We do it because it's a job that needs done. Why do people volunteer to be soldiers? Why do cops, firefighters, EMS workers, search and rescue people, sanitation workers, hospice, and emergency room medical staff do what they do? There are a lot of difficult, unpleasant jobs to do, and thank God there are people willing to do them.
Coal mining is a vital national industry and we all benefit from the efforts of coal miners. Coal provides 50 percent of our nation's energy. Mining is an honorable profession, too. Those who work inside the mountain deserve our respect and gratitude.
And there are personal rewards for coal miners not found in most other professions. There is a sense of belonging, a brotherhood among miners very similar to that shared by combat soldiers, bull riders, police officers, and others who share the dangers and special knowledge of working in extremely dangerous conditions. Coal miners live with danger and the satisfaction of overcoming fear on a daily basis. Because of it, they walk tall and appreciate life and living more than most other people.
And because of that band-of-brothers mentality in the mines, miners will do anything for each other. In this latest tragedy, the first responders were digging at the collapsed mine shafts with buckets, shovels, and bare hands before machinery could be brought in. It was a futile effort, and they knew it, but they felt they had to do something. Those buckets and shovels of coal were expressions of love and concern more than acts of desperation. Those rescuers knew, that if they were the ones beyond the cave-in, their brothers in the industry would be digging with bare hands to get to them, too.
And then there are those who volunteer to be on the mine rescue teams. Mine rescue people descend into the depths of hell and put their lives on the line to rescue other miners. There is no job anywhere more dangerous. They work in the dark, carrying as much as 100-pounds of equipment, in poisoned atmospheres and smoke-filled tunnels where any mistake can get them killed. And yet, some volunteer to do it year after year. Where do we get such people, and how can we ever thank them?
And so, as we wait to hear what the outcome for the trapped miners will be, rest assured that everything possible is being done to rescue them. And in spite of where some of the national media people are trying to take this story, understand that to the miners, the mine company, and the people of Carbon and Emery counties, there are no Mexicans or "Americans" in that mine. We are all brothers here. Just as in the past when there were no Italians, Greeks, Slavs, Orientals, blacks, or northern Europeans trapped in other mine disasters - only members of a single, proud family of miners. We work together, live together, and sometimes die together, here in this valley. Could we be anything less than family?
Our prayers are with the miners and the loved ones of everyone involved.