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WVU team wins second consecutive international mine rescue competition

West Virginia Press Association

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — For the second year in a row, the West Virginia University Mine Rescue Team from the Benjamin M. Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources is the champion of the 2024 Intercollegiate Mine Emergency Response Competition.

The team competed in the event held Feb. 23-24 in Squamish, British Columbia, Canada, traveling for the first time internationally to participate in IMERC — an international and intercollegiate competition that is hosted by Britannia Mine Museum and the University of British Columbia.

This year, the competition included five teams from the United States and Canada. 

“The skills are very similar to the Intercollegiate Mine Emergency Rescue Development Competition, where we competed and took first place last year,” said Joshua Brady, director of the Department of Mining and Industrial Extension. “However, this year’s contest was judged by company-employed mine rescue team members and various professionals in specific skill sets volunteering their time to support the professional development of these students.”

Throughout the competition, teams were challenged to compete in five categories. 

The first and second categories were first aid/mass casualty and ropes events, which challenged teams to respond to an earthquake accident. Simulations incorporated actors portraying victims and the goal was to rescue injured miners in the most efficient manner, while maintaining proper treatment of the patients. Nine miners were scattered around the mill, with injuries ranging from minor complications to severe life threatening trauma. The retrieval of one injured miner required utilizing rope rescue techniques. The team had to safely lower a team member 20 feet to a different floor, treat the miner and raise them back to safety.

“The mass casualty challenge proved to be difficult due to the lack of knowledge of what happened, and not knowing the condition of the people until you’re in there and begin assessing them,” said Joshua Riffle, a senior mining and civil engineering dual major from Buckhannon, and team lead. “When training for the event, we practiced with a team of seven for the competition. Upon arrival to the competition, we were told we could only run the problem with five team members, making the event much more challenging. However, we overcame this obstacle and performed the best that we could with the change in roles of our team to secure first place.”

The next two categories were the BG-4 bench and firefighting. These skills competitions measured the abilities of individuals and team members to troubleshoot issues with types of breathing apparatuses typically worn by mine rescue teams, including broken or bugged equipment and control a simulated fire set up by the Britannia Beach Fire Department. 

The last event was an underground mine rescue exercise where students had to compete to search for an unknown amount of unaccounted for miners. Mine rescue teams had to apply their training to respond effectively in the emergency to save those in distress.

Members of the WVU Mine Rescue Team beat out the competition to win first place in four of the five categories and become the overall competition champions. 

“This team will always hold a special place in the WVU Mine Rescue history books,” Brady explained. “You have the awesome group who started the team back in 2013, the long run of consecutive wins and this group traveling out of the country for the first time.”

Students on the WVU Mine Rescue Team include Riffle, mining engineering majors Odin Smith from Charles Town, Dylan Shilling from Meyersdale, Pennsylvania, and Justin Waybright from Parkersburg, electrical engineering student Ian Stengel from Parkersburg, biology major Troy Whiton from Ringoes, New Jersey, and Grace Hansen, a mechanical engineering student from Ohio.

“We as a team are very determined and competitive, so our preparation is more extensive than the other teams — training a minimum three days a week at 6 a.m. at the WVU Mining Extension training facility,” Riffle explained. “As full-time students, we have busy schedules as well as other commitments, however every team member was committed to attending practice and did not miss one day.”

Student organizations and competition teams play a crucial role in shaping the comprehensive experience of every student within the Statler College. The acquisition of real-world skills provides a competitive advantage that attracts employers and provides the foundation for our students to be successful in their careers.

“Being on the mine rescue team has most definitely prepared me for my future career in mining,” Riffle said. “I plan to join a mine rescue team when I graduate and start my job. For the members of the team that won’t be part of a team after competing at the collegiate level, it still prepares them in the case of an emergency. The work ethic and commitment that this team embodies will carry over to our future careers and make us better at what we do.”

Riffle credited the team’s success to their world-class trainers from the WVU Mining Extension team including John HelmickSean RhodesBrian MalottJosh Caldwell and the leadership of Brady.

The Mining Extension Office also acknowledges Dan Hagen with UBC, Drager, Dynamic Rescue Systems, Britannia Beach Fire & Rescue, Newmont and Dave Heathfield with Redding Mining Ltd., and Britannia Mine Museum for their hospitality and support.

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