2001 National Mine Rescue Contest
September 21, 2001
Thank you, Joe, and good evening, everyone.
First, let me extend Secretary of Labor Elaine L. Chao's regrets that she could not be with us tonight. She truly wanted to share this evening with us. She has a very warm spot in her heart for mine rescue personnel and asked me to say how very proud she is of all of you.
I've encountered quite a few familiar faces since I arrived here earlier this week. It's been very good at this time to see old friends -- and to make new ones.
It's also very good to see so many people here this evening, supporting each other and looking forward to the outcome of this year's contest, in spite of the difficult time that began for all of us last week.
I know that your deepest sympathies and prayers have gone out as mine have done, to those who lost their lives, to the injured, to their families and friends.
And I suspect many of you would have preferred to be several hundred miles from here -- in New York City or Washington, D.C. -- to assist in search and recovery operations that have been in progress.
Had you been called upon to help, I've no doubt you would have answered that call with absolutely no hesitation.
Those of us in the field of mine rescue have been eager to respond to what happened in New York and Washington because we have prepared ourselves over and over for just such an emergency, and in some cases known first hand the experience of sudden emergency.....the determination to save lives even at great personal risk.... and the agonizing sorrow when, in spite of heroic efforts, lives cannot always be saved. That is who we are!
We all can imagine, in some measure, how it must feel to be among those fire crews, urban search and rescue personnel, medical teams and others who responded to that crisis. We watched their courageous and determined efforts, we mourned those responders who lost their lives, and we prayed for those who are putting their lives in harm's way.
As many of you know, in actual mine emergencies, one of the toughest things we sometimes face is the waiting waiting for the signal from the command center to start, or to take our turn underground.
In any mine emergency, some of the mine rescue teams may be called on to go underground, and others may not. But all share in our gratitude for being ready to respond.
Last week the Department of Labor and MSHA offered the help of our own mine rescue personnel and specialized equipment. We know a number of mining companies did so as well.
MSHA was ready to go. Our emergency response team was deployed along with its specialized equipment to the East Coast to be available if needed.
We were in close touch with the Federal Emergency Management Agency in Washington and the Office of Emergency Management in New York.
It is a tribute to this country that the offers of assistance in New York and Washington were so overwhelming that authorities have not yet had the need to utilize the resources of MSHA or other mine rescue teams.
As individuals, many of us in MSHA and the mining community also offered donations and prayers, gave blood, or showed our support by flying the flag.
But beyond that, for most of us, we had to watch and wish that we could do more.
Strangely enough there is a sort of motto for that experience in the words of John Milton, who wrote more than three centuries ago. John Milton became blind in his middle years, and wrote a famous poem in which he asked God why this had happened to him just at the time when he felt most eager to do God's work. And then, he answered himself, in these words: "They also serve who only stand and wait."
Yet it is also true that, whether or not you found ways to help in last week's crisis, all of you in the great community of mining and mine rescue have done more than stand and wait.
All of you have been working very hard every day to make sure that crisis and tragedy do not strike in our Nation's mines.
And at the same time, you have been preparing to respond.
If a sudden emergency happens in an underground mine, then all the urban search and rescue teams in the world would not be prepared for the task of responding. That would be your mission, for which you have trained as hard as anyone could.
Yet all these urban search and rescue teams would be willing to respond. Why? Because that is who they are!
We are inheritors of a proud tradition. The first national mine-safety demonstration was held 90 years ago in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania -- on October 30, 1911.
The demonstration was planned and managed by engineers of the Bureau of Mines, together with miners and coal operators of the Pittsburgh district. Approximately 15,000 people attended, including President William Howard Taft and many other State and Federal government officials. Teams of miners trained in first-aid and rescue work from every coal mining State took part.
Soon after, interest among mine officials, operators, and miners in first aid led to the first contests for mine emergency responders across the country including places like Birmingham, Ala.; Gary, W.Va.; Greensburg, Pa.; Knoxville, Ky.; Valley View Park, Pa.; and Toms Creek, Mich. By 1915, the Bureau of Mine was helping organize in 47 contests.
The work of these trainers and teams and their successors has been instrumental in saving many lives.
And that's why, even as we are all feeling the sorrow of last week's tragedy, it was so important that this week's contest go forward.
As the President has made it clear, and the Secretary of Labor has amplified, these events will not change who we are as Americans, or prevent us from continuing with the work we have to do.
You have all worked hard for months and months to get ready for this event, and I am glad that every single team that registered was able to get here. .You deserve this celebration of your hard work and excellence.
The last several days have shown us countless examples of heroism. The world has seen over and over the images of individuals who have searched tirelessly for life beneath the wreckage.
Their heroics come as no surprise to those of us in the mining community. We've seen those characteristics time
and time again in our own people -- the men and women who make up our nation's mine rescue teams.
For instance, there was the fire that broke out in Utah's Willow Creek Mine at about midnight on July 31 of last year. Several mine rescue teams responded rapidly. By 2:00 a.m., a Willow Creek team entered the mine taking first aid supplies, fire extinguishers, water, stretchers, breathing apparatuses and gas detection instruments. .They found one miner partially covered by a twisted sheet of metal. Three team members stayed with him to stabilize his condition and load him on a stretcher.
The remainder of the team went on, and found a second miner lying partially under a shop car, injured but conscious. They also stabilized his injuries and placed him on a stretcher.
After taking the injured miners out of the mine, the team proceeded in spite of smoke and elevated methane levels to recover of the bodies of two more miners who had succumbed to their injuries.
In the face of great danger, the training and hard work of these individuals made a tremendous difference to the
survivors, and to the families of those who had lost their lives. .So did the warm-hearted spirit of all the other teams that rushed to the scene.
We also, in the past week, realized what we owe to the many people in many organizations who had created emergency plans and trained and drilled for the possibility of a major urban disaster.
Even though there was no way anyone could have imagined an atrocity of this magnitude, their preparedness prevented even greater losses than we actually suffered -- unthinkable as the idea of even greater losses may be.
Similarly, all of the companies and other organizations that have created these mine rescue teams, supported them, trained them, and helped them bring their skills to the highest peak deserve our praise and thanks. Because of your efforts, these fine teams are prepared every day to respond to an instant summons if miners' lives are in danger.
We admire you deeply, and applaud you.
And as this contest is where the country's finest mine rescue teams put the finishing touches on their abilities by testing theirs skills against each other, let's thank all those who helped put this event together, especially contest co-directors Joe Pavlovich and Carl Boone, and all the other MSHA, NIOSH and State employees who have worked tirelessly over the past week.
We applaud you also. After spending the past three days with you, you certainly have my admiration.
And while we're at it, I understand there are quite a few unsung heroes present this evening:
Let us have a round of applause for the spouses, families and friends in attendance.
You are the ones who support the team members through long hours of training and preparation for an emergency that we all hope will never come.
In closing, before I turn back the podium to Joe so that the winners in this event can be announced, thank you to everyone for spending countless hours throughout the year making sure this country is ready for any possible mine emergency.
In my book, all of you are heroes and all of you are winners.