At a recent Utah Mine Safety Commission meeting, Kevin Tuttle from Energy West spoke to the commission. He presented the procedures followed in an emergency situation.
Tuttle said he appreciated the opportunity to speak to the commission. He said mine disasters strike in many forms, fire, water, gases or cave-ins. They affect many people. The Miner Act of 2006 added more regulations to mining and the Mine Safety and Health Administration is responsible for implementing these regulations. "Mining is a heavily regulated industry. MSHA conducts four complete inspections each year at each mine."
Tuttle said he is involved in mine rescue and recovery. Their first responsibility is to account for the men underground. Each miner as they come to work, checks in and when they leave the mine they check out. Trapped miners change the way things are handled. The first responders assess the situation to see how it will be handled and what is needed. They determine what kind of an emergency it is; fire, water, cave-in, gases and each situation is handled accordingly.
In an emergency, mine rescue and MSHA are notified immediately. Needs are assessed and whatever is needed is transported to the critical area at once. Emergency teams are mobilized at once and it is determined if additional teams are needed. If the disaster is extensive then several teams can be called out. Teams also work to spell each other off as one team enters the mine and others wait outside and take turns within the mine.
Regulations used to state mine rescue teams had to be within two hours traveling time of the mine. Now, new regulations require teams to be within one hour traveling time to the mines.
A command center is set up on the surface for the company and MSHA has a transportable command post which it brings on site. Mine rescue teams consist of six people with five in the mine and one at the fresh air intake. The base is setup out of the mine where the breathable air is available. Those men on exploration in the mine relay information to the surface. Teams rotate in and out of the mine. Teams coming out of the mine are debriefed on what they saw within the mine. With the information gathered from the team, determinations are made on how to proceed.
Tuttle said all those on the mine rescue teams have continual training and schools they attend. They are also heavily involved in mine rescue competitions that test the skills of the team members. These mine rescue teams are filled with volunteers and those willing to learn and take the risks to keep up to date on all advances in the mine rescue field. These contests allow the team members to develop and advance their skill level. All types of mine rescue scenarios are worked out in these competitions. They wear a breathing apparatus and face mask to create real life scenarios as they compete in the gear used in actual rescues. They also have 1,000 feet lifelines that they let out and follow. These are used in situations where smoke makes visibility difficult. They also carry with them the instruments to test for gases, chemicals and oxygen levels. All of the instruments they use are safe for mine use and will not ignite any methane gases.
Tuttle said first aid and first responders are a critical part of mine rescue work. The rescuers must be able to perform first aid on many types of injuries and determine the extent of injuries involved. The mock disaster training is very beneficial for first aid training.
"Mine rescue is a very vital part of the industry, no one wants a disaster, but if a disaster happens we need to be able to be prepared," said Tuttle.
Commission chairman, Scott Matheson thanked Tuttle for taking the commission through mine rescue procedures. He wondered about Tuttle's background in mining.
Tuttle said he has been in the mines for 31 years and on the mine rescue team for 13 years. He is currently the chairman of the Rocky Mountain Mine Rescue Association. He has worked on several rescues including the Wilberg, Des-Bee-dove fire and the Joshua Dennis rescue.
He said they were called the morning of the Crandall Canyon disaster and went immediately to the mine. They went to the command center and learned what was going on. He entered the mine on an initial inspection to see what was taking place. The entry was blocked and the miners were breaking the seal on number one.
Tuttle said immediate action is required and the mine rescue teams are notified first. Each situation is different depending on the type of emergency. In a fire situation, more people are needed to fight the fire.
Rescue teams may make a cursory evaluation, but MSHA has control of the situation. Written approval from MSHA is needed which states what each rescue team is allowed to do. Permission is needed under a 103K order.
Initially a company sends in a mine rescue team, but teams can't be sent into harm's way. Decisions need to be made and the situation evaluated for danger, you can't jeopardize a team, you need to know the facts about what the disaster is and formulate a plan.
The critical people involved are at the command center. The mine management, workers, engineers, mine maps, water systems, ventilation systems; everything needs to be available to monitor these systems during this critical time. Gas also needs to be monitored. "It is a chaotic time, but, once it's determined exactly what is going on, the mine can be explored in sequence, and you will go into a controlled situation," said Tuttle.
Tuttle said in Crandall Canyon they weren't needed, it was a manpower issue to get back to the area where the miners were.
Matheson wondered about MSHA and their role in determining a rescue plan and if they have good understanding and knowledge of the mine or if that information comes from mine management.
Tuttle said MSHA has a good feel for the local mines, they are inspected by local people who become familiar with each mine and its personality. The district people also have a good background. MSHA controls how things are laid out. The company says how they want to run the show and MSHA grants that permission.
Matheson said, "The company makes the decision and MSHA ratifies it? How did Crandall Canyon go?"
Tuttle said the rescue teams from the company entered first. MSHA was there and set-up their command center. Their field office supervisor did a good job mobilizing. They went through all the steps. "They were prepared, they were doing everything they could, they made all the calls. They did a good job," said Tuttle.
Matheson wondered if there was any conflict. Tuttle said no, MSHA has a good relationship with the mining company.
Matheson said they are exploring the idea of a central facility for training. "Are you aware of programs in other states that we don't do?
Tuttle said he is familiar with a mine in Colorado where detailed training is given, for fire fighting, smoke and other related areas. "It is beneficial to have detailed training," said Tuttle. Matheson wondered if WETC could become such a training facility. Tuttle said it could be a unique training center, with a lot of potential for training scenarios and for contests.
Matheson wondered if it would be beneficial to store equipment and supplies at a central location. Tuttle said they all have their own apparatus, but other things like technical equipment which each mine might not have of their own could be beneficial. Foam, sound testing, infrared testing, highly technical equipment which could be used jointly by all mines could be useful.
David Litvin, commission member said the charge of the commission is to determine the role the state should play in mine safety. He asked Tuttle in his years of experience how MSHA fulfills its role.
Tuttle said he was there in the days of state inspectors and he doesn't think state inspectors are needed. The federal inspectors are in the mines hundreds of times each year and he doesn't see the benefit of duplication with state inspectors. "If the state is involved it would have to be much greater than before. The feds do a great job and cover the mines well. I think the state should focus on education and training on hazards to keep our mines safe. If companies and miners are more skilled, they will have the ability to recognize hazards. My thoughts are that education should be the focus; another layer of inspection is not needed in my opinion," said Tuttle.
Litvin wondered about a state mine rescue team. Tuttle said the state could participate in mine rescue if they had something to add to existing teams; someone who could add expertise, skill and equipment could be beneficial.
Rep. Kay McIff wondered about the process for approval of mine plans and wondered if it would be a benefit to have a second opinion in reviewing mine plans.
Tuttle said he works closely with the mine plans of his company and plans change constantly due to changing conditions. MSHA reviews the plans and sometimes changes need to be made quickly to alleviate a dangerous situation.
Time is critical in plan changes. If a plan is submitted to add new roof control, it needs to be approved in a timely manner.
"I don't have a problem with the state looking at plans, if it is done expeditiously. Some things, don't need to be engineered to death. Some are just small changes. I could see that turning into a nightmare with dual approval. It could cause a burden to industry. I haven't seen a lot of issues with plans, plans change continually. This last year we had 40 revisions on plans sent in, by our company," said Tuttle.
McIff said he didn't want to impede industry, but there have been questions raised on the approval process of mine revisions. "I don't want a long process, but just a check against an inadequate review process.
Tuttle said after the MSHA people look at the plan and approve it, they could ship it to the state to look at, but the pressure would be on the state to look at in a time sensitive manner.
Tuttle was questioned about the MSHA orders. He said they have two types of orders, K and J. 103K is a discretionary view, if the company wants to do something, then MSHA has to approve it.
Tuttle said when the company wanted to start drilling they immediately starting looking for drilling rigs and started that process.
Huntington Mayor Hilary Gordon asked questions about union and nonunion mines. Tuttle said everybody in the area has a mine rescue team. Union is not an issue when you have a disaster.
Gordon said there were rumors at the time of the disaster that Bob Murray had run the union mine rescue teams off the property and she wanted to dispel those rumors.
Tuttle said they had heard the same thing, but that was just not the case they weren't run off. They were treated with the utmost respect. Union and nonunion was not an issue with the Crandall Canyon mine disaster.