INA – David Colombo is the most recent addition to administration’s plan for the future of coal mining technology courses at Rend Lake College. In anticipation of coal’s resurgence in Illinois, industry-intensive training is coming back to the college after a two-decade hiatus.
Courses are scheduled for the spring semester and registration is already in progress.
Colombo, 44, lives in Carbondale with his wife, Sheila, and 17-year-old son, Nathan.
He brings nearly 17 years of underground experience in the coal industry to the training program at RLC. He worked his way up, from a production miner at American Coal Company’s mine in Galatia – formerly operated by Kerr-McGee Coal Corporation – to shift manager at the mine since 2002.
During his time at the Galatia mine, Colombo worked as a production miner, certified mine examiner, relief production foreman and production foreman. He holds a Bachelor’s of Science Degree in Advanced Technical Studies from Southern Illinois University at Carbondale as well as certifications in mine management, underground shot firing, Mine Safety and Health Administration Diesel Training and Emergency Medical Technician (coal).
Colombo was a member of the Fire Brigade – a volunteer group which trained in firefighting and rescue procedure at the Galatia mine - in 2002 and was an enlisted serviceman for three years in the U.S. Army as a Combat Construction Specialist and for another three years as a sergeant in the Army National Guard.
Safety is a big concern in the industry and RLC’s training will be geared to educate the future workforce with modern safety gear and practices.
“The health and safety of miners is the primary consideration in modern mining and that will be the focal point in the program at RLC. Miners are the most valuable resource in the mining industry.”
One safety device that is used in mining, which is worn on a miner’s belt, is a self rescuer. The self rescuer is a breathing apparatus which is activated and donned by the miner. Through safety training Colombo has undergone, he has tested the usefulness of damaged self rescuers, he said. Every damaged self rescuer he tested worked as it was designed to, he added.
Reports of 43 months without a fatality in Illinois coal mining is a “big feather in our cap” and warrants the attention from federal and state coal officials, he stated.
“That is something to be proud of.”
Colombo said he applied for the position at RLC because he felt he was qualified and can do a good job training the future of Illinois coal mining.
“I feel very positive about the contribution I can make,” he said. He already has training in teaching newly hired miners, he added.
He will be teaching new students on topics such as mine safety and health, roof control, mine ventilation, firefighting, emergency evacuation procedures, electrical hazards, first-aid, mine gasses and diesel regulations.
“I love to take what experience I’ve had, equate it to what is going on in mining today, and enlighten people that want to get into the industry.”
The resurgence of the Illinois coal industry will demand 50,000 workers over the next five to 10 years, according to Trudee Wynn, Resource Development Specialist at RLC. Now is the time and Rend Lake College is the place to begin training for those jobs.
Eight new mining operations are slated for southern Illinois alone - four within the RLC district. That level of growth comes with a pressing need for qualified individuals to fill positions.
One of RLC’s goals is to meet the employment training needs of the coal companies, so they have qualified individuals available to them when they are ready to hire. Another is to enhance the safety of the coal mining resurgence by providing trained, qualified individuals to replace the massive number of coal miners who will be reaching retirement age in the next 5-10 years.
RLC Vice President of Instruction Jim Hull told the Board of Trustees members at their Nov. 14 meeting that a strong miner training and recertification program at RLC in the late 1970s and early 1980s boasted a 98 percent job placement rating in the industry.
When eight coal mines were located inside the RLC district, the college had 22 full-time faculty members devoted strictly to coal miner training, according to Wynn. The Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990 forced numerous mines to close and, with them, the miner training program at RLC.
“We really think the miner training and recertification will be big again for us and we have those courses in place,” said Hull.
Regarding the resurgence of coal in Illinois, Colombo said, “It’s positive for the area, seeing as how there are some hits in other area industries, such as the Maytag-Whirlpool plant in Herrin with about 1,200 workers preparing for separation from that company. Hopefully, the mining industry will help absorb some of the dislocated workers.”
Colombo reflected on a time when coal was the booming industry it yearns to be once again.
“Without a doubt, when coal was king, the money flowed in southern Illinois, he said. “It will be great to see that happen once again.”