Mine Rescue Competition
It’s 6 o’clock on a Saturday morning. The sun hasn’t quite managed to brighten the day yet, but already Dale Kosie is hunched under the fluorescent lights in an arena dressing room, searching for meaning in the sheaf of papers fanned across a makeshift desk.
Kosie fires questions and requests at the other two men seated in the room. The men give the briefest of answers: a few words, and no facial expression. Kosie turns back to the maps and lists spread before him. Clearly, he is on his own.
Dale Kosie is embarking on what may be the toughest two hours in training: Ontario’s provincial Mine Rescue competition. In June 2002, Kosie served as briefing officer for the mine rescue team from Placer Dome’s Campbell mine as they vied for the provincial title, returning to the provincials as 2001 champions.
As well as being one of the highlights of the year for the industry, the provincial competition is probably the best test – short of a real emergency – of how ready an operation is to cope with an emergency situation.
Ontario’s mine rescue program has its roots in a disastrous fire that killed 39 miners at the Porcupine camp’s Hollinger mine in 1928. The mine rescue program was established the following year to organize and train mine rescue crews, and to ensure that if teams from different areas were called in to a major emergency, their procedures and equipment would be consistent. Each mine is required to have a mine rescue team, and each team is trained and guided by a district mine rescue officer. The mine rescue program, which is now part of the Mines and Aggregates Safety and Health Association, has earned an international reputation for training and emergency response.
Mine rescue competitions started in 1950 as a way to test the consistency between teams. Today, the competition cycle begins with play-downs held in six districts: Red Lake, Timmins/ Kirkland Lake, Thunder Bay, Sudbury, Onaping and Southern Ontario. The provincial competition rotates among four districts each year.
In Timmins 2002, the provincial competition begins with a judges’ meeting Thursday evening at 6 p.m. at the Archie Dillon arena. The ice on the arena floor is out, and has been replaced with a warren of hammered-together 2 x 4 walls and barriers, covered in burlap and dark plastic. The walls represent several levels’ worth of underground ramps and stopes, complete with refuge stations, air-lock doors, ventilation fans, shaft station and cage.
The judges make their way through this maze and gather at the far end of the arena. They are an assortment of experienced mine rescue men, Ministry of Labour and safety association staff, and they greet each other like the old friends many of them are. The competition – and indeed the mine rescue program itself – is built on volunteers, and most of the judges will come back year after year to support the program, re-establish connections, and simply to be part of the event.
While this evening meeting is the first glimpse the judges have of the competition floor, the mine rescue staff have worked for two days setting up the structures, and for months before that, devising a scenario that will challenge the team members’ skills. Now, Mine Rescue co-ordinator Charlie Burton uses a slide show and a guided tour to introduce the judges to the scenario and fill them in on their responsibilities. Some of them will play trapped or injured workers in the drama, some will co-ordinate messages to the teams and briefing officers, others will clock and mark each team’s performance. The scenario will repeat over and over, as seven teams work their way through over the next two days.
All of which brings us back to Dale Kosie, closeted away in a windowless dressing room, downstairs at the arena on day two of the competition. He already has some early information about the situation his team will be facing, and is looking at level plans for the mine’s 2400 through 2700 levels. A briefing officer for another mine rescue team – all part of the scenario – calls with the information that an electrician has reported smoke in the crusher at 2400 level. Kosie sends his team’s stand-in hoistman up to the headframe to check it and start testing the list of available equipment. Meanwhile, the other team members are in the fresh air base, testing out their equipment. The word comes in that there are three men left on the 2400 level of the mine. Kosie makes notes and sorts his papers. At this point, there’s no way of knowing what surprises will confront the Campbell team, or what small detail is going to prove critical.
You have to try not to look too far ahead,” Kosie says later. It’s important for the briefing officer to try to anticipate and interpret all the information coming at him, but he needs to keep his mind with the team, because they’re your eyes. You have to remember where the team is, and what things you know for sure.”
Half an hour into the competition, Kosie has his preliminary plan. The team will head to the 2400 level looking for the three missing men: the crusherman, truck driver and electrician. They will take along lockout equipment for the crusher, and carry a hose and foam with an eye to fighting a potential fire. He heads to the fresh air base with his prints and notes – judges in tow – and reviews the assignment with the team, covering communication, ventilation, electricity and the equipment available. All members synchronize their watches, and Kosie is marched off to a second dressing room, this time with clocks, a leaky feeder phone system and two-way radio. This small, cement-walled space will serve as control room for the duration. Campbell’s team captain Chris St. Vincent calls to report the team is under oxygen. The rescue is underway.
Communication between the briefing officer and team captain might be the most important success factor in a competition, Kosie suggests. The briefing officer is trying to form a mental picture of a mine layout he hasn’t seen. He has to process information coming in from many sources, and make decisions that will keep the team safe while helping them carry out their assignment as quickly and effectively as possible.
Communication with the team captain has to be rock-solid, otherwise I’ve got one picture and he’s got another picture,” and the mission could quickly go astray.
Out on the competition floor, the five-member Campbell team has found its way to the crusher station on 2400 level. Members quickly move into action, assessing and providing first aid to the two men they find there – one unconscious on the floor, and one who has taken refuge from the smoke under a sheet of plastic.
The smoke in the arena is imaginary. The team works hard to treat the situation as a real emergency despite the cluster of clipboard-wielding judges and the ranks of spectators and family members murmuring in the arena’s stadium seats. Responding to Kosie’s instructions, they treat the two men they’ve found, and move them back to the cage to be transported to surface.
Watching the events from high up in what would normally be the scorekeepers’ cage, Dave Payne checks the script laid out in front of him and makes a phone call. Serving as the scenario’s communication officer, he stands in as several characters in the drama, calling scripted information down to Dale in the control centre at pre-set times, and tracking all the communication weaving back and forth throughout the arena. He juggles telephone and several channels on the two-way radio. Now he calls the control room as the truck operator to announce that he accidentally crashed his truck into the satellite fuelling station on 2700 level. He has the hoistman and one shaftman in the temporary hoist room with him, and has seen three men heading down the ramp through the smoke toward 2800.
The information is coming at Kosie thick and fast. He makes rapid notes and repeats the details to confirm what he’s heard. Within a few moments, the team has a new assignment: From their position at the 2400 shaft station, they will walk down the ramp, heading for the fire at 2700, and looking for th
e three missing men. Kosie gives St. Vincent specific instructions about how long to wait before making contact by radio again. Out on the arena floor, the team members lift a stretcher weighed down with hose and a bucket of foam solution, and start the long march around what judges call the racetrack”. With each pass, volunteers move barriers so the route looks different each time around. Team members use whistles to communicate when to lift and when to move, and they stop often to check each other’s condition and monitor levels in their BG 174 breathing units.
The control centre is silent, except for the creak of Kosie’s chair as he leans in to study his prints or log book, and the sound of his pen on paper. Now three-quarters of the way through the scenario, Kosie chews gum distractedly and pats his pocket for one of a rainbow of highlighter pens he uses to mark his prints.
Once a competition gets rolling, the briefing officer is able to get a better understanding of the layout of the scenario and the situation his team is facing. The years of mine rescue training – 21 years in all for Kosie – and the weeks of intensive preparation for the competition kick in, and he’s able to focus and feel more comfortable. At that point, he says, he stops worrying about judges and scores, and solving the scenario is the only thing in his brain. The rest of the world isn’t even there,” he says.
At last, St. Vincent calls in to say the team has located the three missing men, who have sealed themselves behind a barricade. They are safe and none are seriously injured, so Kosie instructs the team to go on to fight the fire in the fuel bay. Time seems to move faster as the team heads into the final leg of the competition. As Kosie taps out a rhythm on his knee, the Campbell team members move outside through a smoke tunnel, extinguish the fire, return to the three men behind the barricade, and then, with the three extra men along, start the walk back to the shaft station at 2400 level. The team has been able to determine that the air is now clear enough to take off their breathing masks, a key decision that some teams missed.
When the call comes to say the team is in the cage en route to surface, Kosie tidies up his papers, stows his highlighters back in his breast pocket, and heads out to meet them. It’s been more than two hours since the scenario started. Tonight, after everyone has helped with a lightspeed teardown, there will be celebration at the annual banquet that closes the competition. The Campbell team will place third – not a bad result considering some team members were at the provincials for the first time, Kosie says.
But despite all the jokes, revelry and teasing of a close-knit group, a solemn note runs all the way through the event, from the set-up through the closing banquet. Everyone knows what this is really about, and what these men and women could be called on to do at a moment’s notice. Back at Campbell, Kosie is an electrical supervisor, and when he goes underground, he says, I always feel more comfortable knowing there’s well-trained mine rescue people beside me.”
“The competition gives you the chance to learn under pressure, and to work on better ways of doing things,” and that experience pays off when it’s needed most – in a real emergency. Over his years in mine rescue, Kosie has been involved in rescues and recoveries related to serious and fatal accidents.
“It’s the competitions that get you ready for that,” he says. “Nothing else equals it.”
2002 Ontario Mine Rescue District Champions
Southern Ontario: (tie) Canadian Salt Company Ltd., Ojibway mine, and
Compass Minerals (Sifto Canada), Goderich mine
Onaping:Falconbridge Ltd., Craig/Lockerby mines
Thunder Bay:Newmont Canada Ltd., Golden Giant mine
Timmins/Kirkland Lake:Kinross Gold Corp., Timmins Operations
Red Lake:Placer Dome Ltd., Campbell mine
Sudbury:Inco Ltd., West Mines
2002 Ontario Mine Rescue Provincial Champions
First place:Falconbridge Ltd., Craig/Lockerby mines
Second place:Kinross Gold Corp., Timmins Operations
Third place:Placer Dome Ltd., Campbell mine
Equipment Technician Champion: Bill Gascon, Newmont Canada Ltd., Golden Giant mine
Special Emergency Equipment Award:Kinross Gold Corp., Timmins Operations
The 2002 event also included participation by a mine rescue team from BHP, Billiton Mitsubishi Alliance, Australia.
The centrepiece of any mine rescue competition is the mock disaster that puts each team through its paces. The scenario must be different each year, and yet it must challenge the team and call on as many different aspects of their training as possible – fire fighting, first aid, search and rescue, communication. And, as a general rule, it must all fit into a standard-sized hockey arena.
For the first time, the 2002 provincial competition in Ontario took teams to two separate locations – the Archie Dillon Sportsplex in Timmins, and the mill at Placer Dome’s Dome mine. The Dome was the site for the annual special equipment competition, which demanded that teams test their skills with ropes and rigging to rescue a worker trapped three stories below a catwalk.
At the arena, the main event saw teams locating several men missing underground after a report of smoke. Here’s a quick recap of the emergency:
*Team sets up in fresh air base and tests equipment while team briefing officer receives preliminary information.
*Team receives instructions to locate three missing men – crusherman, truck driver and electrician – believed to be on 2400 level.
*Team’s cagetender goes ahead to assume control of hoist and check equipment.
*Following briefing, team dons breathing apparatus, takes cage to 2400 level, and moves through smoke to crusher station.
*Team finds two men in crusher station – crusherman is unconscious, with broken femur. Electrician is conscious and uninjured, has taken refuge from the smoke under a sheet of plastic.
*Team returns to cage with two men and sends them to surface.
*Truck driver calls in to say he has crashed his truck into a fuel station on 2700 level. He reports he is in the temporary hoist room with two men and has seen three other men heading down the ramp toward 2800 level.
*Team heads down ramp toward 2700 level, following procedures for travelling through smoke, checking doors and openings on the way.
*Team arrives at a bulkhead with temporary barrier erected, and discovers three men have taken refuge there. None are seriously injured, and they have breathable air.
*Team comes to the fueling station on 2700 level and must use foam to extinguish the fire.
*Team returns to the bulkhead to assist the three men there and bring them to surface.
*Team returns up the ramp to meet the cage on 2400 level and return to surface to stand down.
The quickest team completes the entire scenario in two hours and one minute. The longest time is a gruelling two hours and twenty-seven minutes.