By Mike McCullough
September 12, 2017 - Miners from across the nation are at the National Mine Health and Safety Academy in Beaver, West Virginia
The facility, which celebrated its 40th anniversary last year, will see around 1,200 participants by Thursday in the 2017 National Mine Rescue, First Aid, Bench and Preshift Competition. This is the first time the event has been held at the 60 acre site.
The competition is run by the Holmes Mine Rescue Association and has previously been held at a Kentucky convention center. While it is a busy time, the academy is no stranger to crowds. Mine Academy Superintendent Dr. Mike Faughman said they were ready.
“The process has been about a year’s worth of planning,” said Faughman. “We do this on a fairly regular basis. We have a number of events during the year that cause a number of people to come into the academy. It’s not unusual for us to do this.”
The remnants of Hurricane Irma have been threatening the mostly outdoor event since it began Monday. Faughman says everything is going well regardless.
“Everything’s smooth, the only real issues we’ve had is the uncontrollable. The weather’s a little bit windy today. Other than that it’s gone very well and I think everybody’s very pleased with the way the events progressed.”
Ronald Burns, co-director for the national contest and chief judge echoed Faughman’s remarks. He added he has already heard positive feedback from participants about the first-time venue and its competitive courses.
“They liked them, they were challenging,” Burns said. “It was something they could work, and they did enjoy that portion of it.”
The course consists of numerous scenarios teams must face, evaluate and execute a plan accordingly. The fields are divided by ropes representing a coal mine’s path. Papers are tacked to the ground giving scenario details and obstacles along their journey. Teams representing West Virginia, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Alabama and Colorado were competing Tuesday.
Groups who have already participated are isolated from those who have yet to compete so details are not shared. While specific obstacles could not be revealed, some included simulated roof collapses, fires and mine explosions. Participants are evaluated based on their response to the given situation.
This is the first competition at the Raleigh County facility, but the event dates back to 1911. The first competition was held in Pittsburgh and caught the attention of then-President William Taft. He came to the event’s trophy presentation.
When the National Mine Health and Safety Academy is not hosting a national competition, it’s used year-round for mine safety supervisor training. Trainees must spend three weeks on site, then three additional weeks in the field. They must also attend refresher training for two weeks every two years. Housing is not an issue for the trainees. The facility boasts a four-level dormitory.
The facility’s next large event will be the TRAM (Training Resources Applied to Mining) conference in mid-October.
It’s unclear whether the facility will house the national competition again in the future. Faughman indicated this year’s event will be evaluated to determine what is best for the competition’s future. He said the academy has pros and cons for the event.
“The primary benefit is because of the facility we have, we can do things much more cheaply for them then they can do it having to rent a convention center. The problem is weather. In a convention center you can control that and maintain a consistency for every team.”
The 2017 competition will end Thursday, September 14.
A team prepares to suit up for a scenario.
Photo by Mike McCullough