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McDowell mine rescue team earns first place in national competition


Bluefield Daily Telegraph

WELCH, W.Va.  — Nobody expected them to win, but a McDowell County mine rescue team beat all expectations when competing teams demonstrated their skills at the National Mine Rescue Competition.

The Southern Pocahontas Mine Rescue Team located in Welch finished first during the National Mine Rescue Contest’s first day, Trainer Donnie Coleman said. Team members had to meet prearranged challenges set up Sept. 19 at the National Mine Safety Academy in Beaver.

The Southern Pocahontas Mine Rescue Team in Welch recently finished in first place during the first day of the National Mine Rescue Contest in Beaver. Members left to right: Dennis MaHaffery (Sally Ann Coal No 1 Mine), Jason Owens (XMV No. 39 Mine), Robbie Ortiz (Pay Car Mining), Mark Muncy (XMV 39 Mine), Adam Tinney (Raw Coal Sewell B Mine), Josh Sizemore (Mission Coal 50 Mine), Chad Sloane (Ramaco Mining), Doanald Hagerman (XMV No. 42 Mine), Barry Baker (ERP 50 Mine), Steve Meade (ERP 50 Mine). Not pictured Steve Walls (Ramaco) and trainers Donnie Coleman and Don Cook.
(Submitted photo)

Every two years, teams are invited to the National Mine Rescue Competition, Coleman said.

“This is the first time the contest has ever been conducted in West Virginia to my knowledge,” he stated. “Normally it’s in Columbus or Nashville or Louisville, but this year they elected to do it at the National Mine Academy in Beaver.”

Mine rescuers must meet a variety of challenges when the contest gets underway.

“What they do is they lay out a simulated mine and they give you a scenario of a situation that has occurred,” Coleman said.

The Southern Pocahontas team’s scenario called for them to enter a mine after an explosion and rescue the people that were still inside. They had to simulate tasks such as pumping water, supporting an unsafe roof and ventilating any dangerous gases out of the mine.

“They set it up and then you go in,” Coleman added. “Then it’s timed out. All of it is timed. There’s written tests that go along with it.”

 Members of the Southern Pocahontas team participated in the January 2015 rescue of a lost man at the Keystone No. 1 mine in McDowell County. They also among the rescuers who searched in late August 2016 for another man who was lost in the same mine. Despite a major effort, that man, 30-year-old Clay Epperly, could not be found. The mine was later sealed.

More than 60 teams from across the United States participated in the contest. Southern Pocahontas team is composed of employees representing several mines in Wyoming, McDowell and Mingo Counties. The team has competed in four different competitions this summer finishing in first place three out of the four contests, Coleman said.

“What’s unique about our team is we’re considered a contract mine rescue team, so our members don’t come from the same mine where they see each other every day,” Coleman said. “We’re represented by a bunch of mines.”

Contact Greg Jordan at [email protected]

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