TransAlta’s Highvale mine rescue team competes in annual competition on June 20
The Alberta Mine Safety Association (AMSA) co-hosts a provincial mine rescue competition with industry partners on an annual basis. This year, the competition is being held at the TransAlta Tri-Leisure Centre in Spruce Grove, AB on June 20. TransAlta’s Highvale mine rescue team is competing, and they do regular training for the kinds of real-life situations that are re-crated in the competition.
Eight teams and over 100 volunteers from across the province will participate in seven events including firefighting, rope rescue, smoke house, first aid, spare man, written and the main competition. Participants are assessed on practical application of rescue techniques, teamwork, communication and knowledge. The competition is open for the public to watch — come out and cheer on the TransAlta team!
Mining in Alberta
Mining has a rich history in Alberta — stretching from the mountains across the prairies — contributing to the growth of towns and cities across the province. From the earliest use of coal in the late 1700’s to fuel blacksmiths forges at Fort Edmonton to fueling the expansion of the railway and then expanding to domestic use, coal became an important part of the economic growth in Alberta. As mining expanded, so did the importance of safety of the miners.
The beginning of mine rescue in Alberta
On October 10, 1910, a large methane explosion trapped 47 miners in Southern Alberta at the Bellevue mine. At that time, there were no locally trained dreagerman, now known as mine rescue members, and they had to reach out to nearby Hosmer, BC, the closest mine rescue station. The dreagerman were able to rescue 17 men, but the remaining miners and one of the rescuers did not survive this tragic event.
It was shortly after this time that mine rescue stations and training programs co-funded through industry and government were placed in mining districts throughout Alberta. With this expansion, the importance of practicing and learning from others resulted in the first Mine Rescue Competition being held on Dominion Day 1916 to allow teams from BC and Alberta to get to know each other, share knowledge and practice the skills necessary to respond to emergencies.
Mine rescue teams today
With over 10,000 people directly employed in mining, safety remains a key priority for companies and government. Mine rescue teams are a regulatory requirement of the Alberta occupational health & safety code, but for those that participate, it is more than filling a requirement. Dennis Wichuk with SunHills Mining has over 10 years of experience in mine rescue and is also a volunteer firefighter. Dennis has been training the SunHills mine rescue team as they prepare for the upcoming competition.
“They put in a lot of time, but it is more than just acquiring a skill — the members really have to care and want to make a difference. They develop a sense of comradery as a team and the competition provides an opportunity to apply their skills so they are able to respond in an emergency.”
Mine rescue certification includes rope rescue, firefighting, first aid, site specific emergency response and familiarity with the mine layout. Individuals on the teams work within the mine operations and train outside of their normal schedule to acquire the required skills. It takes many hours of studying and practicing skills to become proficient in rescue techniques.