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Students Learn Safety in the Mines



By Greg Jordan


May 13, 2017 -  Emergency vehicles, flashing lights and bellowing smoke are usually bad signs around a coal mine, but Friday they were signs of education – not disaster – for dozens of Tazewell County, VA students.

The Pocahontas Exhibition Mine hosted the Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy’s (DMME) Safety Days program for the county’s elementary students. Tarah Kesterson, public relations manager for the DMME, watched as a simulated mine rescue was finished.

“We did this a few years ago and a few people called 911 when we smoked up the mines,” she recalled. “This year I think people were more aware of it. We partnered with Pocahontas three years ago. We’ve done their safety inspections for some time, but we decided to get a little more involved.”

This involvement included the DMME’s mine rescue team demonstrating what would happen if a miner was trapped underground by a fire. “We have smog machines that we use for training underground,” Kesterson said. “And it’s good training for our team. They’re the first state mine rescue team in Virginia. A lot of coal companies have their own rescue team, but this is the first state rescue team.”

Federal regulations call for having two rescue teams at a mine during an emergency, but having a second team is costly for most coal companies, she said. Work is underway to have rescue teams stationed at Big Stone Gap, Va. and Lebanon, Va.

After the simulation was over, the students divided into groups and visited education stations about electricity in the mines, natural gas, reclamation of coal and mineral mine sites, a model processing plant and equipment in the DMME Emergency Response trailer.

Eleven-year-old Gracie DiGiacomo of Graham Intermediate School said “when they did the fire in the mine” was her favorite part of the field trip. Learning about the rescue equipment and procedures was particularly interesting.

“I liked how they told us all about the masks and how they put up the walls and pulled the people out,” she stated. Other students thought mining and mine rescue could be their future career.

“It could be one of my choices,” Graham Intermediate student Evan Rice, 11, said. “It would be fun to be in the mine all the time. You would be hyped.”

The Pocahontas Volunteer Fire Department, Pocahontas Police and the Tazewell County Sheriff’s Office provided traffic control and other assistance. Students from Abbs Valley School and Springville Elementary School also participated in the Safety Day experience.

The Pocahontas Exhibition Mine is open Thursday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday from noon to 4 p.m.

During Safety Day, Greg Estoll with the Virginia Department of Forestry presented 15 trees including common apple, river birch and Washington Hawthorns to the town of Pocahontas for beautification efforts.


The Pocahontas Exhibition Mine hosted the Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy's Safety Days program for the county's elementary students Friday.

Photo by Eric Di Novo


The mine rescue team with the Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy performed a mock mine disaster for students during the DMME's Safety Days program.

Photo by Eric DiNovo