Sheriff LaMar Guymon at the Wilberg Mine disaster memorial.
The 25th anniversary of the Wilberg Mine disaster was observed on Dec. 19, 2009. Emery County Sheriff LaMar Guymon was serving as the sheriff at the time of the Wilberg fire and is still on the job today for Emery County.
Sheriff Guymon remembers some of what went on at the time of Wilberg. "I remember we were told the mine was on fire and a number of people were trapped inside. We didn't have a clue as to how many, our office had very limited involvement with the mines unless it was picketing and a few accidents. Other than that a lot of us had never been in a mine or had any idea what went on in a mine. We were fortunate to have some of our employees who had been in a mine. We were able to use them for information and give us an idea of what went on there. This was 25 years ago and a lot of our employees were new. This was my first experience with something of this magnitude. We handled it like any other crisis. We relied on the company and miners for direction, on what we needed to do to help them.
"There are a lot of things that would be different if it happened today. We know more now. We compare Wilberg to Crandall Canyon. Crandall was handled differently. Since Wilberg we have had a lot of experiences. The training and equipment we have now is far superior to what we had 25 years ago. Our command post back then was a one ton Dodge box van. It was our crime scene unit.
"A lot of things I learned during Wilberg have helped us in the direction we have tried to take the sheriff's office. We have been fortunate to have hired some excellent people that compliment the office. We've added equipment, we have been able to obtain through grants and our increased knowledge and training in emergency management which leads to a better response. We have a better handle on how to react in these types of situations.
"We have a mine safety commission at the state level. This Mine Safety Office is a great asset to the coal industry. It works to bring managers, coal miners, public safety and everybody that's a player in the mining industry, as far as emergency response goes, on the same page. They meet on a regular basis so we can handle emergencies even better than in the past.
"As I look back on the Wilberg mine disaster, some events are blurry and some are as fresh as if they happened yesterday. I am sure things are that way to those who lost loved ones in that coal mining accident. It changed my life to some extent and changed 27 families lives forever. I am sure the events of Wilberg are still fresh in their minds, the loss of husbands, sons, brothers, fathers and cousins. Those kinds of things leave a mark on families forever.
"The events at Wilberg inspired us at the sheriff's office and made us want to do a better job in emergency response. I look at the memorial service that took place Saturday, (Dec. 19) and think back when it was actually happening and all the people involved and the people that showed sympathy, what a great experience it was to see everyone come together like they did. One thing as human beings we forget too easy if it doesn't affect us personally. I would encourage everyone to think how fortunate they are their loved ones weren't lost in Wilberg and to think a little bit about how precious and fragile life is. Also to those who lost loved ones at Crandall and how important it is that we do what we can to make life better for those who survived.
"One of the most frustrating things at Wilberg was we had some ideas about what we needed to do or wanted to do, but we hadn't had training on how to do it. We have spent time since then in training our people to respond. Our guys do a tremendous job now in these kinds of situations.
"We learned a whole lot in a lot of different areas. We have spent some time in and around the coal mines. The people we have at our office have taken training very serious. Capt. Kyle Ekker and all our deputies have stepped up and have been willing to take training and learn to use the equipment we have. We could probably handle anything that comes our way.
"I think when Crandall happened it gave us something to compare to Wilberg and how we handled Wilberg and Crandall have been scrutinized and evaluated time and again.
"Some things we didn't handle well and some things we had never done before. I think we did well with the families. They had a hard time, not knowing if their loved ones were alive or not. The hardest thing in these situations is the human factor. You can lose a coal mine and its a financial hardship, but the loss of life is just something that can't be replaced. I hope we continue to rally around those in our communities who have lost loved ones, not just in coal mines, but in all situations," said Sheriff Guymon.