More than 100 Consol Energy coal miners, rescue teams and rescue units from the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration and Pennsylvania emergency agencies conducted a simulated underground mine rescue operation Wednesday.
Louis Barletta, vice president of safety for Consol, said the training exercise was part of a proactive approach among all the agencies to ensure the safety of miners. While he said such exercises typically are done on paper, this time it was a "hands-on" experience.
"It's a big event," Barletta said. "It's the first of its kind in Pennsylvania. It's an inter-agency opportunity to test new technology and communications. We're all learning."
Photo by Art Limann
The locations of rescue teams are tracked on a map and information relayed to Consol main headquarters.
He said the scenario involved a belt repair crew doing routine maintenance with one member hearing a pop and seeing smoke. He and three other miners got out, but 41 were unaccounted for because communications were cut off. No one knew exactly what had happened. Rescue teams then had to go in, find the missing miners and fight a fire.
Joseph Main, assistant secretary for MSHA, said, "This is a unique opportunity for all of us, having all parties involved. It lets us test where we're at. It's a real test for rescue teams. It's the best test they've ever had.
"Bringing all parties together is part of a national strategy," he added. "We'll get better, educated and learn. We'll identify shortcomings and improve."
Barletta stressed new technologies are being utilized. Among them are a robot, gas analysis, new communications equipment and new seismic detection equipment. Officials at the scene were also in constant contact with Consol headquarters in Canonsburg, Pa.
Members of the Pennsylvania Special Medical Response Team were also able to get actual underground experience.
Analyzing information gathered from the exercise is expected to take some time. Changes and corrections will then be made to improve rescues in the future.