MOUNT MORRIS – It’s like a competition for best fire department, only you work in total darkness and radio signals only go a few feet. American Rock Salt’s two mine rescue teams are not just on call for any underground emergency, they’re fiercely competitive to be the very best.
The mine rescue teams returned home last week from one of several mine rescue competitions. They not only pour their hearts into being the fastest, safest team but hone skills that make them the ideal underground first responders.
“You have a written test on the first day, 30 questions out of our training manual that the questions are based off of,” said Joe Farrugia, American Rock Salt mine rescue team captain and President of the Northern Mine Rescue Association. “Then we have the field competition, where they have a mock mine set up and we go through the mine according to our rules, where you can go and where you can’t go. Then we have a first aid competition and we also have a team technician with our BG 4’s and our meters.”
This was just one of the competitions that the teams look forward to every year.
“We call it the M.E.R.D., that’s where we go down to Beckley, West Virginia, the MSHA Academy,” said Farrugia. “They have a two-story, basically a big warehouse with movable walls in it and they fill it up with Hollywood smoke. So you really can’t see in front of your face. You walk into a lot of walls sometimes, if you don’t know where you’re going. But we look forward to going out there in September.”
The team has been dispatched to three emergencies in the past 10 years. All three were small underground fires that were quickly put out with no injuries. Experiences like this, plus the team members’ day jobs and regular drills, make them very familiar with the mine.
“All the guys that are on the team right now work underground,” said Farrugia. “So they have to be very familiar with the mine especially where certain areas are. We have to know exactly where we’re going. And we have to take the quickest route or the safest route depending on what the situation is.”
It is dangerous work, but at the end of the day, the whole team is proud to be on call.
“We’re a dedicated bunch of guys,” said Farrugia. “I know each one personally. They all have their hearts in it. They wouldn’t be on the team if their heart wasn’t in it. My family’s been mining salt since the turn of the 1900’s so I always thought that I could help. I would want somebody who I know and I respect to come get me if I was down there and I have all the faith in the world in every man on this team.”