September 8 was a day to remember for the coaches and members of Elk Valley Coal’s Fording River F Shift mine rescue team. After two days and 25 hours of intense competition against 18 other mine rescue squads, F Shift became the first local team to win the North West Regional Mine Rescue Competition (NWRMRC) held in Fernie, British Columbia.
“I can’t emphasize enough how much hard work, time, and energy the team members put in,” said team captain Rory Marshall. “To be the best in B.C. was just too good, but to take the Western Regionals - that’s the best in the West! It’s just indescribable.”
The western region consists of Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, British Columbia, Northwest Territories, Nunavut, Yukon, and the northwestern United States. Held every two years, the biennial event was first hosted by the NWRMRC and the City of Fernie in 1993. Based on the success of that inaugural competition, the City of Fernie and the NWRMRC have jointly hosted the event since then.
Eligibility to compete is restricted to the underground and surface mine rescue teams that have won their respective provincial or state competitions from the previous and/or current year. The competition is designed to recognize, showcase, and celebrate the skills, dedication, and hard work of those involved in emergency response and mine rescue.
F Shift is a prime example of the commitment that goes into a winning team. The team’s two coaches, husband and wife Bruce and Shelley Dingreville, have been involved in mine rescue for almost 20 years. Their team won the grueling provincial mine rescue competition in Williams Lake this past June before capturing first place in the NWRMRC. Team members include captain Rory Marshall, vice captain Jeff Scott, D’Arcy Lewis, Dennis Cooper, Doug McLean, Dean Borgen, Nick Hucik, and coordinator Brian Jones.
“These guys put in an amazing effort, and I don’t mean just at the competition,” coach Bruce Dingreville commented. “Being part of this team means a huge commitment from them at home as well as at work. Up until the competition on Saturday, they were still cramming at home with tests Shelley and I had given them.”
The knowledge and skills demanded from the men and women on mine rescue teams are rooted in a proud, storied history that extends back almost 100 years. Mine rescue techniques, training, and equipment in the early 1900s were limited and relatively ineffective. Then, in 1909, after a series of mine accidents in the province, the British Columbia Mines Act was rewritten. The new law required, among other things, that every coal mine be equipped with a self-contained oxygen breathing apparatus. It also mandated that central supply stations for the training of rescue corps be established and maintained by the government. This marked the beginning of formalized mine rescue in B.C.
Elk Valley’s first mine rescue station was established in 1910 at Hosmer where a team was soon trained in the use of the new mine rescue breathing apparatus. It wasn’t long before the Hosmer team was called to serve. In early December 1910, an explosion at the Bellevue Mine in Alberta killed 30 of 42 miners and trapped many more. With no mine rescue team of its own, the Bellevue Mine called upon the assistance of the Hosmer crew, who responded immediately. Lives were saved that day and ever since by the use of the more efficient breathing equipment.
The competitions renew and reinforce the bonds established by the first mine rescue teams. More importantly, the areas represented are part of the disaster response plan designed to provide mutual assistance when and where it is required. As in 1910, the example set by the Hosmer teams has continued - borders are ignored when the need is there.
For captain Rory Marshall, the importance of mine rescue and the dedication of his team makes the competition especially meaningful. “We live what we preach,” he summarized. “We promote safety and live safety based on hard work, determination, and never letting up. You’re working together with these guys and they’re the best; so if it ever does happen that I get into a spot, I know the best is coming to get me,” he added. “I am so proud of the team. It comes right down to helping people in need and saving lives - and for that we do it from the heart.”
The success of F Shift has been a long time coming for the team and its coaches. After years of commitment and hard work, the Dingrevilles’ have decided that it’s time to step back and retire from mine rescue.
“We’ve made so many friends over the years,” said Shelley. “Winning first place was definitely special for us, but it’s the fellowship and camaraderie of mine rescue that we’ll miss the most.”
For their team and colleagues at Elk Valley Coal, the feeling is mutual.