10 Skill Drills and Trainings Included in the 2022 Fallen Heroes Mine Emergency Response Drill Exercise at the West Virginia Training and Conference Center

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Joseph A. Holmes Safety Association’s West Virginia, Central Appalachian Council, hosted the 2nd Annual Fallen Heroes Mine Rescue Event August 22-25, 2022. 

Two of the four days were hosted at the West Virginia Training and Conference Center in which 12 teams completed a mine emergency response drill which included a series of mine exploration training amongst other skills tests. 

The remaining two days were hosted at Sylvester, West Virginia, where the town hosted a mine rescue competition to see what mine emergency response team responded and completed the mine rescue problem the quickest.13 Teams competed in the Sylvester portion of the mine rescue contest. 10 in-state teams, 2 Kentucky teams, and 1 Virginia team. 

Sylvester is located in the heart of coal country and is the home of the mine rescue problem designer, Harvey Farrell. 

WV MHST Involvement in Mine Rescue Training 

The State of WV’s Office of Miners’ Health, Safety, and Training comprises a group of mining experts such as senior electrical and mine inspectors, safety instructors and other subject matter experts. These individuals are dedicated to the goal of making mining operations safer and offer their services to support mine rescue training events. 

WV MHST personnel regularly assist with training and certifying workers and ensuring that miners of all skill levels have a basic understanding of mine rescue and how to respond to a dangerous mining event. 

During a mine emergency response drill, the WV MHST agency, supports the event by providing staffing who assist with planning the event, teaching various classes, making sure all necessary training props are available and classrooms are set up, and judging the various exercises and skills drills. 

By assisting organizations and mine companies with this training exercise, this helps the agency and mining companies successfully work toward their safety goals and work together. 

Most importantly, this is an opportunity to have all of the coal companies in the area compete side by side and take their mine rescue positions seriously, and to test their knowledge and skill set.

An Overview of the 10 Skill Drills and Trainings

1. Field and Smoke Exercise
The mine rescue response drill coordinator, problem designer, and WV MHST staff have several meetings leading up to the mine rescue event to adequately prepare for the mine emergency response drill.

Typically, days leading up to the event, the test field is cleared and set up with placards that describe the many obstacles that the trainee will have to overcome and the problem designer will make sure that all placards are correctly placed. 

During the Fallen Heroes event, the fields were set up in the underground simulated mine lab. When trainees entered the mine lab, they were in a smoked-filled environment, which gives them a simulated experience with how to navigate through a mine with low-visibility due to fire or an explosion.

The mine lab has black walls and ceilings, and very little lighting, so the primary light source is the cap-lamps that are on the miners’ hard hats. This environment very much simulates the inside of a coal mine. 

The mine rescue participants have to work their way through the mine, communicating with the Command Center everything they encounter, while wearing their breathing apparatus.They are timed and judged when they go through this exercise.

1st Place Overall MERD – Alpha Southern

2. Command Center Training
It is necessary for all mine emergency team members to understand how the Command Center works in the event of a disaster. 

This tabletop exercise allows trainees to communicate through the IWT communications system, which is a wireless communications and tracking system that is engineered to be used underground. 

The Command Center is a location where usually mine management, federal and state officials, and other important individuals will gather to communicate with the mine rescue team. The mine rescue team will let the Command Center know where they are located underground so they can create accurate maps and ventilation data. 

The Command Center team will also assign responsibilities to others to assist with rapid mobilization of response, with support from vendors and other mining industry leaders. The key focus of this training is for everyone to understand the importance of concise communications with the mine rescue team. 

The quicker the Command Center understands how serious the disaster is underground, they can make decisions on further exploration and firefighting. Teams often use the computer based program, Visio, a diagramming software, to build a mine map and mark various things the mine rescue teams describe such as roof, water, and fire hazards. 

3. Iron-Man Challenge Skills Drill

In this particular skills drill, team members are challenged physically and timed to see how fast they can complete the drill. 

The individual will first approach an 8-inch square timber in which they will cut with a hand saw. Then they will run to complete the next station and roll out 2 fire hoses and roll them back up and place them back to the original station. 

They will then carry in each hand, two 5 gallon buckets filled with water around the course and finish the drill by dragging a 150 pound lifelike adult mannequin 50 feet. This drill is completed in full uniform while wearing a breathing apparatus.

1st Place Iron Man Challenge – Alpha Southern 
4. Firefighting and Fire Hose Management Exercise

To manage fire activity, there are various techniques you can learn in a firefighting and hose management training class. 

Trainees work with their teammates and connect and stretch the firehose, and use it to safely charge and advance on the fire inby and outby via spraying a prop across a field and around cones that mark the crosscut. 

This exercise shows trainees how to adjust the nozzle and spray the fire prop while wearing a breathing apparatus and how to work in a six person team to extinguish a fire.

1st Place Firefighting – Coronado Central Appalachian

5. Bench Contest 

It is important to know how to put together and take apart your breathing apparatus in the event that mine rescue personnel need one to respond to an emergency. 

Typically each member is designated their own apparatus that they are in charge of. As a part of their required monthly training, the mine rescue teams regularly put together and take apart their apparatus which are BioMarine or Draeger machines. 

In the timed bench contest, the apparatus will be staged with a “bug” and the mine rescue member will have to determine how to troubleshoot the problem. This training will prepare them to mentally practice and inspect and assemble these devices in front of judges. 

There is typically one member of each mine rescue team that is responsible for inspecting and testing the team’s apparatus equipment but all members of the team are required to know how their equipment generally works.


1st Place – Casey Mooneyham


1st Place – Robert New
6. Advanced Apparatus Training

Along with the bench contest this training is provided to give a comprehensive overview of how to diagnose deficiencies in the operation of apparatus, planned or unplanned. In this class, the instructor reviews BioMarine, Draeger and Scott SCBA equipment. 

The advanced apparatus training will provide a hands-on breakdown and rebuild of the apparatus in addition to requirements for tear down, disinfecting and drying the apparatus. 

The training will also include basic instruction on features of the equipment, such as, how to start and shut down the apparatus and how to observe indicators and PSI readings. 

7. IWT Communications Training 

Portable communications equipment is deployed to create a wireless communication system so mine rescue teams can communicate with the Command Center. 

This system replaced walkie-talkies or two-way radios to create a seamless network to communicate in underground coal mines. In this specific training, the instructor explains how to deploy the system, how to troubleshoot,and how the system efficiently works. 

10 Skill Drills and Trainings Included in the 2022 Fallen Heroes Mine Emergency Response Drill Exercise at the West Virginia Training and Conference Center

In addition, the instructor reviews how gas readings are transmitted over the wireless mesh network, how the system tracks the location with the gas detector, and how that data is referenced in the Command Center. 

8. Gas Detector/Magnehelic Gauge/Smoke Tube Training 

This training reviews how a disrupted ventilation system can release dangerous gasses and how to evaluate the atmosphere to determine if it is safe to go deeper through the mine. 

10 Skill Drills and Trainings Included in the 2022 Fallen Heroes Mine Emergency Response Drill Exercise at the West Virginia Training and Conference Center

The training includes how to read your gas detector equipment, how to collect air samples and how gravity and temperature play a part in how the range of pressure can result in an explosion or dangerous conditions. 

This training reviews how one can protect themselves from an oxygen deficient environment and what to look for if gas is present in the atmosphere.

9. IG7a – Advanced Skills Training 

In this training, mine rescue members will go over issues that may arise during a mine emergency. 

10 Skill Drills and Trainings Included in the 2022 Fallen Heroes Mine Emergency Response Drill Exercise at the West Virginia Training and Conference Center

Class attendees will learn how to work together to address a problem by participating in a variety of activities and exercises. This instructor led class will test the mine rescue members ability to use their problem solving skills on a variety of mine rescue topics.

10 Skill Drills and Trainings Included in the 2022 Fallen Heroes Mine Emergency Response Drill Exercise at the West Virginia Training and Conference Center

10. First Aid Training 

It is important for all miners to be able to quickly respond and provide treatment to injured persons underground. The goal is to get the injured stabilized and outside as soon as possible. 

10 Skill Drills and Trainings Included in the 2022 Fallen Heroes Mine Emergency Response Drill Exercise at the West Virginia Training and Conference Center

This first aid exercise will go over how to administer treatment to the patient and transport them safely to the fresh air base. 

Mine rescue team members, depending on the mine emergency, will have to recover survivors and/or bodies out of the mine and will have to learn proper procedures on how to locate these individuals. They are responsible for identifying the location and shape in which the person is found. 

Mine rescue teams will have to consider alternative routes, obstructions, equipment, refuge chambers or barricades where the miners may be located and what that may mean for the individuals’ conditions. When found, the Command Center will make the decision on sending backup teams to support the recovery response. 

10 Skill Drills and Trainings Included in the 2022 Fallen Heroes Mine Emergency Response Drill Exercise at the West Virginia Training and Conference Center

The winners of the second portion of the Fallen Heroes mine rescue competition that took place in Sylvester, West Virginia are as follows: 

1st Place – Alpha Paramount 

2nd Place – Southern Pocahontas Apache Team

3rd Place – Coronado – Buchanan Red

About Joseph A. Holmes Safety Association

The Joseph A. Holmes Safety Association (JAHSA) is a nonprofit organization that began in 1916 to promote health and safety in the mining industry and consists of representatives from Federal and State Governments, Mining Organizations, and Labor. 

The Association’s objectives are to prevent fatalities and injuries and to improve health and safety among officials and employees in all phases of mining. 

These objectives guide and inspire all of the Association’s activities.  All levels of the Association are strengthened by active participation from labor, government, mining companies, and suppliers. 

In recent years, the association has grown substantially and has embraced the surface and non-coal mining sectors in addition to its traditional underground coal membership.

About West Virginia Training and Conference Center 

The WVTCC is equipped with banquet rooms, classrooms, electrical training labs and a 96,000-square-foot underground-simulated scenario mine training lab. 

The multi-purpose center can accommodate events for communities, companies, government agencies and other organizations. To learn more about the WVTCC, visit westvirginiacenter.com or call 1-304-369-7823