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Safety Olympiad hones rescue skills
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Safety Olympiad hones rescue skills

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A mock chain-reaction pileup involving a fuel tank and construction grader injured several people on the road leading to a mine site.

The Nevada Highway Patrol is on the scene, but it will take at least half an hour before an ambulance can arrive.

With critical seconds ticking away, a mine rescue team arrives to assess the injured motorists and others, extricating them from their vehicles and stabilizing them until an ambulance arrives.

This multi-vehicle crash is the scenario facing nine mine rescue teams on the third day of the 34th annual Elko Mine Safety Olympiad that hones the skills of first responders based at mine sites.

Hosted by Kinross Bald Mountain, this Safety Olympiad saw eight rescue teams from Nevada and one from Wyoming gather at the Elko Convention Center in July for three days of simultaneous competition and training in life-saving techniques.

The event was one of four competitions held nationwide this year to fulfill the Mine Safety and Health Administration’s requirement that “every operator of an underground mine assure the availability of mine rescue teams for purposes of emergency rescue and recovery of trapped or injured miners,” according to MSHA. “Mine rescue contests and simulations are an essential part of the training process, and ensure that teams receive hands-on exposure to a range of potential hazards and mine emergency scenarios.”

This year, organizers designed a “what-if” situation that could take place off a mine site and involve other agencies.

Scenarios are designed to make it as realistic – and tough – for rescue crews who go to work as though they are entering a disaster scene for the first time. Volunteers have make-up and plastic molds called moulage used to simulate wounds and injuries, painted or attached to their bodies.

They are also instructed to play their part as a critically injured victim in crying out in pain or a slightly injured but emotionally shaken casualty who refuses medical attention.

During the mock-disaster on the third day of the Olympiad, one volunteer loudly directed the teams to a co-worker trapped under a vehicle.

“Hey! Help her!” a man shouted to rescue crews, waving and pointing toward the grader. “You gotta help her! Don’t worry about me. Take care of her!”

“Emma! Are you OK?” called out a female volunteer to a woman lying on the ground. “Emma, talk to me! Somebody help Emma, she’s just a baby!”

As each team member tended to the victims, a judge followed close enough to hear the first responder speak to the injured and ask questions about their well-being.

A Nevada Highway Patrol trooper also monitored the crash scene. About 30 minutes in, a MedX ambulance arrived.

Jason Cooley of Kinross Bald Mountain’s health and safety department considered a busy road leading to a mine site when he planned this year’s scenario. Usually, access roads have employees traveling back and forth to work, vendors transporting fuel and supplies, and construction workers with heavy equipment – all of whom might be involved in a multi-vehicle crash given the timing and circumstances.

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Cooley said the situation would be realistic given the proximity of the rescue teams and their knowledge of fuel trucks.

He also wanted to give the nine teams experience to coordinate an accident scene with Nevada Highway Patrol.

There is a 45-minute time limit, but crews are graded on how they approach the scene, assess the victims’ injuries and remove them from the area for medical transport.

“You could be the first one but miss a lot of the stuff you should have done by rushing,” Cooley said. “Some teams are cool and calculated, doing what it takes because in real life you’re not going to rush to get a patient out because you’re out of time. You want to make sure you treat them the way they need to be treated.”

Safety Olympiads for surface and underground mine rescue teams were canceled last year, but some are resuming, Cooley noted.

Kayla Schipman and Cassidy Parker from Thunder Basin Coal Mine in Wyoming traveled with their team to the Elko event this year. A regular entrant, the rescue team thrives on competition and one year traveled to British Columbia. Schipman said she and the team reap several benefits from competitions, especially after missing a year due to COVID-19.

“They’ve definitely missed competing and the challenges and team dynamics that come from it. There’s a little rust to knock off,” Schipman explained. “The biggest benefit is to grow and strengthen our rescue teams as a whole.”

Neil Jensen, the general manager of the Kinross Round Mountain rescue team, said his company has been a regular participant in the Safety Olympiad. He has attended for nearly two dozen years and noticed that “competition brings a whole other level of training for the team. It’s much more real-life and gives them an opportunity to practice a lot of their skills.”

Due to turnover within the team each year, “there’s that gradual handoff of knowledge, and we’ve got to retain those skills as the team members change out and people go to different areas,” Jensen said.

Jensen also observed that the personnel changes had enriched the mining industry as a whole.

“A lot of the Round Mountain team over the years are on a lot of these other teams, and it’s good to see the Nevada mining industry shares the talent, shares the skills. It doesn’t matter what site they work at; everybody is upscaling and bringing that to the whole industry.”

Nevada Highway Patrol Trooper Jeff Howell was the law enforcement presence during the Safety Olympiad and called his experience a “great opportunity” to work with other agencies in the community that are very well trained and add another layer of safety.

“Events like this helped everybody work together to help increase the safety of the people involved in the accident and increase the safety of the traffic that builds up behind us,” Howell said.

Pulling various agencies together for this year’s Safety Olympiad is part of Kinross Bald Mountain’s overall goal to expand their training into other areas that a first responder may encounter.

“The great thing about the Bald Mountain health and safety team is that they’re eager to work with local authorities and agencies,” said Matthew Miller, corporate social responsibility specialist. The team has been cross-training with the White Pine County Fire District, exchanging firefighting classes for CPR training.

Adding another skill set to mine rescue teams gives each member more knowledge to apply at both the mine site and within their communities.

“If somebody has a heart attack in the store, there’s a really good chance of having somebody from the mine rescue team nearby,” Miller said. “They may be the people to save your life.” 

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Courts, K-12 schools & Spring Creek reporter

Staff writer for the Elko Daily Free Press

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