Rescue teams leave with life-saving skills

By Sandi Krasowski
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
The Chronicle-Journal

The Ontario Mine Rescue Provincial Championship is wrapping up this week at the Fort Williams Gardens where eight teams from Algoma, Kirkland Lake, Sudbury, Onaping, Thunder Bay, Red Lake, Timmins, and southern Ontario competed for the coveted golden hard hat trophy.

Shawn Rideout, the chief mine rescue officer at Workplace Safety North, explained how these teams undergo extensive training through Ontario Mine Rescue (OMR), which is a part of Workplace Safety North and operates under the authority of the Occupational Health and Safety Act. Even if they are not the winning team, they come away from the competition with invaluable life-saving skills.

“They put in hundreds and hundreds of hours preparing for this competition, which just makes them better in their everyday job,” Rideout said. “It’s a big investment in people’s time and money from the companies to get them (to the competition) and it’s an insurance program. The more you train people, the safer and more prosperous your mine is going to be.”

Rideout compared the teams to volunteer firefighters who maintain regular mechanic, electrician, miner and other jobs on the mine sites.

“When there’s an emergency, those are the guys that respond,” Rideout said, adding that Ontario Mine Rescue certifies miners in emergency response, as well as equips the mines with emergency response equipment.

“Across the province, we respond to between 40 to 70 calls a year across 32 mining operations in Ontario.”

Among the risks in the mining industry, which include structural collapses and medical emergencies, fire is always top of mind.

“Underground mines are essentially a confined space and a fire in that area is not like on-surface operations where you just evacuate the building and you’re in an unlimited good atmosphere,” he said.

“It’s a confined space and a fire in any part of the mine can contaminate the entire mine. Nobody is safe anywhere in the mine when there is a fire unless they’re in refuge stations.”

There are more than 1,000 mine rescue volunteers across the province and Rideout says they are the only people in all of Ontario “that do what we do.”

He speculated that almost 40 per cent of the workforce in Ontario ties back to the mining industry.

“Mining has its ups and downs. Right now we’re on very much of an upswing and commodity prices are high. So mining is in high demand and is prosperous right now,” he said.

In May, 27 teams from across the region competed in Kakabeka Falls while many other teams competed simultaneously in four other parts of the province.

Competitors resolved identical scenarios at all of the five sites around the province. That competition produced the eight teams that came to Thunder Bay this week for the provincial phase. Each team began by writing an exam before taking turns to head into mock scenarios of emergencies.

The event took place at the Fort William Gardens over a span of three days.