By AMY GAREIS
News-Herald Staff Writer
CADIZ – The recent loss of 29 lives at the Upper Big Branch coal mine in West Virginia, the largest mine disaster in U.S. history since 1970, has made safety a main topic and some local officials are weighing in on what it takes to be prepared.
At the Ohio Department of Natural Resources Mine Safety Training Center in Cadiz, safety takes top priority. It was established following the Sago Mine tragedy in West Virginia in 2006 and houses a two-level, state-of-the-art educational facility with two simulated mines and four classrooms. A simulated underground mine can be filled with smoke during exercises while the upper level mine has a changeable walls and ceilings to depict coal pillars and tight spaces.
Jeff Sabo, mine rescue supervisor, had not yet seen an influx of contacts for more safety training in light of the Upper Big Branch catastrophe, but he agreed education was key in preventing more tragedies from occurring.
“Our mission statement from a mine rescue standpoint is to respond to any mine at any time within one hour of land travel. Cadiz serves Hopedale, Tusky, Sterling mines and Mountain Springs and we have two other stations located in Gloucester and Shadyside (the latter soon to be moved to Barnesville),” Sabo said.
During trainings, each team is given a problem to solve using gas placards, and often scenarios are set in dark, smoke-filled locations. Craig Corder, certifications supervisor, agreed that training must be repetitious to deter more fatalities.
“They are given a problem to solve and it’s very systematic and tight,” Sabo added. “It makes a person think and it’s for safety. Team safety is the first priority. There will be a mix of things that happened [at Upper Big Branch] and we will be on the lookout in the future. Training and passing on knowledge is key to keeping it from happening again.”
Sabo said the Upper Big Branch incident will be scrutinized, but he would not speculate on what caused the explosion.
“It will be a rigorous investigation, there’s no question,” he said.
“If history is any type of indicator, new regulations will come out [of the latest disaster],” said Corder. “Every law is written in blood. It doesn’t address negligence and you can’t foresee every possible situation. Sometimes things you didn’t foresee can get somebody killed. When you take coal out, you are going somewhere no man’s ever been before. You are constantly exploring and don’t know what’s on the other side. The only good thing coming out of this is that lessons will be learned and maybe it won’t happen again.”
“The same year as Sago, about 35 miners died nationwide in separate events and they were overshadowed by the 12 who died at Sago,” Corder noted.
Sabo said new mine rescue rules have emerged for the 2010 mine rescue season and teams have been preparing this years competition. He credited the groups for staying active with their learning.
“Mine rescue teams are dedicated and operators are offering time for them to do more training. It’s one of those things where you train, train, train and hope you’ll never have to be called.”