May 2011

Student Life

UBC mine rescue team takes the lead: A year of firsts for students committed to mine safety awareness

By Rory Grunerud

Team at mine rescue station in Timmins. Kneeling (L to R): Rory Grunerud and Jake Gram; standing (L to R): Kyle Foster, Jetzen Loo, Josh Arnaly, Jesse Newmarch, Jose Martinez and Jeff LaMarsh | Photo courtesy of Rory Grunerud

Over the last year, the mining industry has experienced several high-profile incidents around the globe that have highlighted the need for both increased awareness of underground safety and emergency response-trained personnel. To address this issue, at the start of this school year, students in the mining engineering program at the University of British Columbia (UBC) created Canada’s only university mine rescue team, one of only a few student teams in North America.

An eight-person squad of students was assembled to be trained in mine rescue, encompassing such disciplines as firefighting, first aid, patient extraction, ropes deployment, smoke exploration and situation risk management. Through the generous support of sponsors (BHP Billiton, Goldcorp, Shell, Total E&P, Imperial Metals, SMS Equipment, Newmont, the Canadian Mineral Processors Society of CIM, Syncrude, MineSight, North American Tungsten and the Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of B.C. [APEGBC]), enough funds were raised to purchase the bulk of the specialized safety equipment and supplies needed to outfit an entire team in the first year. To test its mettle, the newly formed team accepted an invitation to participate in the 1st Biannual University Mine Rescue Competition hosted by the Colorado School of Mines in Denver, Colorado, in February.

The team accepted an offer from Goldcorp to train for a week with their Ontario provincial championship mine rescue team based at the Porcupine Mine in Timmins, Ontario. We were trained on the workings of the BG-4 closed-circuit breathing apparatus, as well as on specific tools utilized by a mine rescue team, including thermal imagers, immobilization boards, CAREvent automatic resuscitators and various types of self rescuers. The training included multiple simulations in which complex incidents with evolving situations and danger levels were completed. This fostered teamwork and reinforced skills learned, but more importantly, helped to develop risk management skills. By the end of the week, the training experience had molded each member by arming them with basic knowledge to function and operate as a cohesive mine rescue team.

At the competition in Denver, the UBC team competed against both the Colorado School of Mines men’s and women’s teams, and Pennsylvania State University. It was a grueling competition that pushed each team to its mental and physical limits, demanding four hours on oxygen and the extraction of live casualties that weighed in excess of 136 kilograms. It was a fantastic event that exposed the teams to a great deal of safety methodologies, new techniques, communication and teamwork. In the end, our training with Goldcorp paid off as UBC was declared the overall winner. In five skill-based competitions held the next day, we won three events – rope rescue, patient extraction and fire fighting.

With the first operational year complete and a competition victory under our belt, the team is now looking at becoming more involved in the British Columbia provincial mine rescue competition and will hopefully field a demonstration team in the next few years. At the university level, there has been tremendously positive feedback following our debut performance and the dedication shown by the team members to a culture of safety. Hopefully, student mine rescue teams will be created at other Canadian universities in the near future. In the meantime, our team will continue to promote the issue of safety and keep working at perfecting our skill sets.

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