Estimated read time: 2-3 minutes
John Hollenhorst Reporting When disaster struck the Crandall Canyon mine on Aug. 6, we pinned our hopes on a mine rescue team that went underground. The effort ultimately failed: three rescuers died and six trapped men were never found.
Coincidentally, the federal government is considering tougher standards for rescue teams, and that stirred a bit of opposition today in hearings at the Little America Hotel.
The hearings were scheduled in Salt Lake and other cities long before the disaster at Crandall Canyon. But, our tragic saga this summer reminded us of the risks rescuers are asked to take when they go underground to help others.
It's almost certain the Crandall Canyon tragedy would have come out the same, even with the new rescue rules, but as federal hearings opened, the chairwoman asked for a moment of silence, especially for those who volunteer to be rescuers. "I don't think that there is any more noble service," explained Patricia Silvey, chairwoman for the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) hearing.
Most mines are required to have rescue teams, or at least have pre-arrangements with outside rescuers. The proposed rules increase annual training for rescuers from 40 hours a year to 64 hours. They also upgrade standards for rescuers' breathing devices and toxic gas detectors. "I don't think they're under-equipped, it's just that this is equipment of better technology," Silvey said.
The biggest controversy is over a proposed rule that rescue teams be stationed within one hour of every coal mine, instead of the old two hour rule. "The one hour travel time requirement is a tremendously burdensome situation for mines in the West, such as this state, and at many times would be completely unfeasible," explained David Litvin of the Utah Mining Association.
Small mines a long distance from existing rescue teams might have to make every miner a rescuer. "With 19 people working underground at the mine, if I've got to put two teams together, then I run into the problem, do I have people motivated enough that they want to be on a mine rescue team?" mine safety manager Rodney Head questioned.
That was the biggest concern of rescuers KSL News talked to, that rigid federal rule will force people to become rescuers. The job is so demanding, they say, no one should do it unless they're highly motivated.
The hearings will continue in other states.