Vale mine rescue competes against world’s finest

Members of Vale Manitoba Operations mine rescue team competed in the 2016 International Mine Rescue Competition in Sudbury, Ontario Aug. 23-26, giving Thompson rescuers the opportunity to test their mettle against some of the world’s finest rescue teams. While the team did not return with any hardware, the competition was a valuable learning experience.

Vale’s Manitoba Operations team was made up of captain Kelly Edwards, coach Warren Brass, Brad Sirman, director Murray Keough, Chris Matechuk, Joe Catarino, Todd Yuskow, Trevor Parsons and Tomasz Bak.

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The competition pitted 27 mine rescue teams from 13 different countries against each other in six competition categories: emergency underground scenarios, first aid, high-angle rope rescue, theory, technician challenges and firefighting (which, rather uniquely, was hosted underground in realistic conditions).

Canada’s Kirkland Lake Gold Mine (situated in northeastern Ontario) took home the overall prize this year. While Thompson’s team failed to place this year, Vale’s Sudbury West Mines earned a bronze in the high-angle rope rescue event.

Nonetheless, the competition Manitoba Operations faced cannot be overstated. Mark Scott, vice-president of Vale Manitoba Operations, noted that some teams Thompson rescuers faced were trained on a fundamentally higher level. “Many teams like ours were made up of full-time miners and workers who volunteer to be part of mine rescue,” said Scott. “Others were full-time units who serve their state, while still others were part of military units.”

Brass noted that every team in the competition was trained to an high standard: “It was basically the Olympics of mine rescue. The top teams and the bottom teams are so close to each other that it’s only subtle mistakes that separate the top three in each of the categories.”

Edwards agreed that the competition attracted some truly exceptional talent: “They’re in sync: they step on the same foot. It was impressive to watch some of them, for sure.”

Edwards felt the Thompson team was strongest in the firefighting portion of the competition; while the fires were simulated underground, with team members suited up with artificial oxygen, Edwards noted that in some sense, the underground setting made it easier: “The elements didn’t come into effect as much as before; other times when we’re on the surface, we have swirling winds and all sorts of things. But this was exactly how we always do it, in real life.”

In April 2015, Vale’s mine rescuers were put to the test when a genuine mine fire trapped Thompson miners in underground safe rooms overnight.

The competition was also a invaluable learning experience for the team, giving the mine rescue members the opportunity to learn new details in protocol, new equipment setups, and even providing Vale event organizers with some new ideas for hosting future provincial competitions. Thompson’s team will also be reviewing video footage of both themselves and their peers, in order to identify strengths as well as new techniques for improvement.

“The difference is in the details,” says Scott, “and that’s what gives you the opportunity to learn and improve. It’s nice to win a competition, but it’s really about learning from one another, and helping our emergency response personnel be more effective.”

Edwards also noted the team had plenty of opportunities to interact with other teams, living with Polish and Chinese competitors, and squeezing in a game of football with Russian rescuers. He was particularly impressed with the Russian team’s discipline: “We had a lot of fun, but they were still up at five every morning for a six-mile run.”

Scott congratulated the team on their performance that week.

“I’m extremely proud of how our captain, our director and our whole team represented themselves and our operation: they looked like real professionals that belonged among the best mine rescue teams in the world.”

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