[Thompson, Manitoba] Birchtree Mine: On the ramp at the 300-foot level – by John Barker (Thompson Citizen – June 3, 2011)

The Thompson Citizen, which was established in June 1960, covers the City of Thompson and Nickel Belt Region of Northern Manitoba. The city has a population of about 13,500 residents while the regional population is more than 40,000.  news@thompsoncitizen.net

Vale Manitoba Mine Rescue teams show their stuff

They’re the elite: The best of the best. The miners who volunteer and train rigorously to go underground in hazardous conditions to rescue their fellow miners in the event of a fire, smoke, explosion or some unknown event, and restore the mine to a safe working condition, as Stu Waring, general manager for mining and milling, and the number two guy at Vale’s Manitoba Operations, describes the work they do.

The 2011 Provincial Manitoba Mine Rescue Competition was held May 27 and 28 at Vale’s Manitoba Operations in Thompson with the winning team this year from San Gold in Bissett. The event rotates to a different mine site in the province every year. Next year’s Manitoba Mine Rescue Competition will be held at Hudson Bay Mining & Smelting Co. Ltd. in Flin Flon.

The mine rescue event, while hypothetical in nature, is far from an abstract academic exercise. If any evidence was ever needed of that fact, one need look no further than Birchtree Mine, site of this year’s rescue competition. Little more than 24 hours after the awards banquet wrapped up at 1 a.m. Sunday morning, mine rescue was being called out a 2 a.m. Monday morning on May 30 for a real fire on the 2700 Level ramp, at Birchtree, said Vale Manitoba Operations corporate affairs manager Ryan Land. “The fire was out when Mine Rescue arrived and there were zero readings of smoke on the way down. Clearance was given shortly after 5 a.m.”

The cause of the fire is believed to have been the failure of a hydraulic hose on a piece of underground equipment known as a load-haul-dump vehicle, or more commonly known as a scooptram.

Land said that two workers who were in the vicinity of the fire were taken to hospital as a precautionary measure and released later that day.

At the time of the fire, there were 23 employees working underground in Birchtree – some employees of Vale and some of Macintyre & Associates. Ethyl mercaptan, better known as “stench gas” was released to alert the workers of the situation, and they sealed themselves into underground refuge stations until the fire was extinguished. Land said.

Two days earlier during the competition, San Gold’s winning team was comprised of Mark Norgren, director of operations; Ron Levasseur, coach; Chad Vinkle, captain; Kory Kossack, number two man; Tyson Devine, number three man; Kevin St. Martin, number four man; and Dean Pickell, vice-captain. San Gold last won the provincial competition way back in 1962.

John Lockhart, San Gold’s superintendent of safety and health, said, “We are very proud of our team, they trained many hours and are well deserving of the win.”

The runner-up team was Vale’s Manitoba Operations, captained by Kelly Edwards, and also including director of operations Tyson Gegenfurtner, co-captain Al Proulx, along with Jeff Huff, Billy Merasty, and Randy Wischnewski.

The competition events included First Aid, practical skills, firefighting, underground challenge, equipment preparation and a written exam.

Much of the competition was staged in the muck and dark at the 300-foot level underground on the ramp at the Birchtree mine. The hypothetical emergency rescue scenario had two workers – Miner #1 and Miner #2 – tag in and go underground, using two mine Cat personnel carriers via the Birchtree 300-124 Portal Entry. Twelve other workers entered the mine by the shaft and were working in other areas of the mine.

Surface First Aid received a phone call from a mechanic at the Birchtree Headframe reporting grayish black smoke coming up the shaft. They also received a call from a grader operator reporting black smoke coming out of the top of the headframe.

And so on, as the scenario unfolds, with information that Miner # 1 and Miner #2 were assigned to the 300-foot level to clean the level in preparation for rehabilitating the area. Miner #1 was working neat the entrance to the 300-foot level, retreated to the refuge station as soon as he smelled stench gas and was OK. “Miner #2 remains unaccounted for” the six mine rescue teams are told.

The technical challenge winner at the Mine Rescue event was Carl Nilsson of Tantalum Mining Corporation of Canada Ltd. in Lac du Bonnet.

This year marked 51 years of Mine Rescue Competitions in Manitoba. The other teams competing were Crowflight Minerals of Wabowden (marking their first competition, with their team trained by Vale); and Hudson Bay Mining & Smelting Co. Limited of Snow Lake.

A repeat award went to Vale – Birchtree Mine and T1 Mine – for capturing the national John T. Ryan Trophy Safety Award.

Ryan long worked for Mine Safety Appliances Company of Pittsburgh, joining the company in 1936. He was promoted to general manager of Mine Safety Appliances in 1940. Ryan, who was also born in Pittsburgh, became president of Mine Safety Appliances Company in 1953.