INA – The setting was the same but the players were much different at take two of the Robert Earl Jones Mine Rescue Competition, Thursday, at Rend Lake College.
Members of mine rescue teams from Illinois and Indiana competed for the best time on a mock disaster course that was soaked by rain all day at the college. It was the second year in a row RLC played host for the Illinois Department of Mines and Minerals contest.
Eleven teams competed – up from last year’s turnout. Eight were from Illinois mines and three were from operations in Indiana. With a time of 46 minutes and 10 seconds, first place went to White County Coal’s Pattiki Mine in Carmi. Team members Jim Fishback, Dustin Barnett, Les Ricketts, Harvey Niehaus, Todd Stubblefield, Lonnie Garrett, Seth Tate and Captain Mike Emery were presented an award for their victory.
Illinois mine rescue teams that competed were from International Coal’s Viper Mine in Williamsville, Peabody Coal’s Gateway Mine in Coulterville, Pattiki, Peabody/Black Beauty Coal’s Vermillion Grove Mine, American Coal’s Galatia Mine (runner-up), Peabody’s Willow Lake Mine in Equality, Springfield Coal Crown 3 Mine in Farmersville, and the Illinois State Composite Team based in Benton. Indiana mine rescue teams were from Alliance Coal’s Gibson County Mine in Princeton, Black Beauty Mine in Monroe City and the Indiana State Composite Team based in Vincennes.
John Smith, a mine inspector with the IDMM, said the REJ Mine Rescue Competition originally started as a warm-up event for other competitions in the statewide circuit, but is growing into one of the premier stops along the way. Winning it is prestigious for the mine and the team, he said.
“It’s a matter of pride,” Smith said. “It’s about the best time today. These guys are all competitors. Nobody likes to lose. The competition is really great and the rescue teams like competing against one another.”
“It’s about bragging rights,” 29-year-old Jeremy Fletcher candidly said.
Fletcher is from the Wildcat Hills Mine in Galatia and new to his role as the “gas man” for the Illinois State Composite Team based in Benton. His job is to check areas for gas contamination or low levels of oxygen in order to keep himself and his teammates alive, he said. All bravado aside, the competition is more about training than winning and it is serious business.
“They want to be able to help in a situation, such as a disaster ... to help other coal miners ... and saves jobs as well as men,” Illinois Composite Captain Brock Patterson said of the type of miner who volunteers for mine rescue. “Everybody here has a competitive spirit and they want to know that they worked the problem right in the fastest time. But, we are really here to train and to learn ... to get people out and do it safely.”
Patterson, a safety director at Night Hawk Coal and a resident of West Frankfort, has been competing on mine rescue teams for the past eight years. The REJ Competition was his last as a member of the Illinois Composite Team. He will be returning to his Night Hawk team.
RLC will construct a training center on campus where mine rescue teams can train in a simulated disaster environment. RLC Applied Science and Technology Division Chair Dr. Sarah Bond said the facility will be an asset to the industry.
Bond thanked the IDMM officials administering the Robert Earl Jones Mine Rescue Competition for allowing the college to host again this year. She said as it expands to attract more and more teams, it will only continue to improve and serve as an even better training event for safety in the mining industry.