ESTEVAN — The Mine Rescue Team (MRT) at Westmoreland Mining Holdings LLC's Estevan Mine hopes their hard work will pay off when they face other MRTs in Saskatoon in early June.
Seven members of the Estevan team, as well as coaches and the safety manager, dedicated a good portion of May to practising and preparing for the 53rd annual Emergency Response Mine Rescue Skills Competition that will be held June 3 at Prairieland Park in Saskatoon as a culmination of Saskatchewan Mining Week.
For three weeks, Derek Choma, Tanner Weger-Brandow, Brandon Schopp, Austin Dovell, Lonnie Rooks and vice-captain Tyler Ursu, led by captain Jessica Klarholm, and guided by coaches Cory Gibson and Travis Olver, and supervised by safety manager Guy Hiltz, were giving it all they have, not only to ensure they bring home the trophies but also to perfect their skills, reactions and teamwork to always perform to their best if a call for help ever comes. And after many hours of training, they were feeling well about the upcoming challenge.
"I'm looking forward to it; it's going to be good," said captain Klarholm.
Over and over again, members that are partaking in the competition practised various scenarios, debriefed and went again to ensure they shine at the competition.
With just a few days remaining until the team will head to Saskatoon, Klarholm said they have picked up the pace in comparison to the last year and were progressing well.
"We shook the rust off last year from being shut down during COVID. Now we have that extra year under our belts. So, it'll be not as shocking as it was last year. I feel like we're better prepared all around in our skills.”
At the competition, all teams will have to do a number of scenarios, including surface, practical, rope high-angle and fire problems. They will also have to write an exam and do a gas test. Just like in real life, MRTs won't know what kind of challenges they are to face. They have a list of minimum equipment they have to bring, and then they have to find the best and safest way to approach the situations.
"There is a lot that teams have to know," said Olver.
The entire MRT at Westmoreland Mining Holdings LLC's Estevan Mine has 14 members, fully trained to help in case of a real emergency. The MRT practises once a month to maintain their skills, and then competing members have an intense three-week training regime right before. All drills are relevant to real-life emergencies, and the annual competition serves as a showcase of the talented and committed people who work at Westmoreland's Estevan mine and for other mining companies across the province, giving them even more motivation to excel.
Klarholm said their practices have seen more consistency than last year.
"We have a lot of stuff that we have to cover in an eight-hour day, it can be strenuous. And sometimes it's hard to get everybody because we're all on different shifts. But we do what we can to keep our skills sharp," Klarholm said.
She noted that they try to gradually rotate members that are partaking in the competition every year because the three-week training course is great for getting all members up in their skills and most efficient if an emergency happens.
"[It's important to be on the competing team because] from a work perspective, it helps us to be proficient in actual emergencies on our mine site. And also, we all have our personal reasons too. These skills are transferred to our everyday lives, so I think for most of us, that's probably it. A few of our members are also in a fire department, so these skills transfer to their work as well," Klarholm explained.
The newest member of the team, Dovell, has partaken in just a few training sessions before going into the three-week practice blast. Klarholm has the most experience among the active participants with eight competitions, while coach Gibson has the most years of seniority overall.
Eighteen MRTs will take part in the competition this year, and the Estevan MRT is aiming at finishing in the top three, with some members set to come in first. Hiltz said the Estevan mine management is very supportive of the MRT and grateful for the members' efforts.
"Westmoreland as a whole wants to support our mine rescue and make sure that if anything ever happens that we're ready to go," Hiltz said. "If we were to talk to our executives, our senior leadership group and our managers, I think one of the things that makes them sleep easy at night, is knowing that people are here and they [are sharp in their skills]. That being said, obviously, we are also always active in terms of safety all around."