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Remarks by Dave D. Lauriski
Southern Regional Mine Rescue Contest
Awards Banquet
New Iberia, Louisiana
May 3, 2003


Good evening, everyone.

I'd like to extend a warm welcome to all of you here tonight.

To the 11 rescue teams representing mining companies in Louisiana, Kentucky, New Mexico, New York and Texas .... welcome.

To each and every team member here, for those who participated in first aid and bench, thank you for all your hard work this week, and for your continued dedication to mine rescue and mine safety as a whole.

Welcome, also, to the co-workers, friends and relatives of the participating teams.

Your support means a great deal to these men and women.

I'd like to thank the association and the contest coordinator, Willard Graham and George.

And I particularly want to thank Joe Olivier for his repeated invitation to me to come to New Iberia. I've had a great two days.

Dozens of people help make rescue contests run smoothly. I wish I could name you all individually, but there's just not enough time.

However, if you were a judge, team briefing official, a scorekeeper, an appeals committee member, a victim, an attendant.. if you helped design the problem, or set up and dismantled the fields, I'd like to extend my thanks.

And I want to thank Charles Young and Charles Justice for the splendid tour of their mine on Weeks Island. I'm most at home talking with fellow miners.

These rescue contests mean a great deal to the Mine Safety and Health Administration, because we have long understood the importance and value of mine rescue.

Most importantly, they mean a great deal to the miners who work in the mines.

Mine rescuers truly are a special breed of people.

I've learned that much over the three decades I worked in the industry, and it's reaffirmed to me each time I attend one of these events.

There are very few professions that share the bonds of brotherhood and sisterhood that exist in mining.

Those bonds, of course, deepen when you spend hours together repeatedly training, reinforcing techniques and competing as a team.

Like any professional sports team, you learn to anticipate certain moves and actions of your teammates.

You play off of each other's strengths and skills.

You develop a group chemistry and a deep sense of trust in one another.

These things are crucial to creating and maintaining a top-notch team whose primary focus is saving lives.

Yesterday I witnessed that special camaraderie and support.

Each time a team suits up and prepares to hit the field, the applause from other teams, from MSHA, and from spectators is reassuring.

In just a few minutes, we'll be rewarding several teams and individuals for their hard work.

I hope you know that you are all winners, regardless of your placement in the contest.

We need to rely on and support each other, because we never know when we will need the skills and expertise of our fellow mine rescuers.

Just like at the Quecreek Mine in Somerset, Pennsylvania, almost one year ago, when nine miners were safely rescued after a 77-hour odyssey underground.

That may have been one of the greatest mine rescue efforts in the history of U.S. mining. It was certainly one of the greatest moments in my career.

It's also one of mining's shining moments. And it focused the attention and recognition of the whole nation, and indeed the whole world, on all that is best in the American mining industry.

Unfortunately, mine rescue has experienced some dark moments as well.

Those of you with a history in Louisiana remember quite well the '68 fire and the '79 explosion at Belle Isle.

Some of you may have a special connection to those who lost their lives or who worked at the mine back then. And today I visited the resting place of many of those who perished in the '68 incident.

Thankfully, out of those dark days came change. Safety programs were upgraded, and while many individual were instrumental in pushing through these much-needed changes, there is one man in this area who exemplifies the efforts that were needed to affect that change.

That man is Harry Hall Anderson, a legend in this part of the country. I'm sorry he couldn't be here tonight. It would have been a great honor to meet him.

As you know, Harry became extremely active in mine rescue following the first tragedy at Belle Isle.

He served as one of Avery Island's first mine rescue team captains. In fact, that team won the first metal and nonmetal mine rescue contest ever held in the United States.

I know all of you who are connected with the Mine Rescue Association have great respect for Mr. Anderson.

As I said earlier, the men and women who participate in mine rescue make up a tight-knit community, and when something happens to one of its members, all are affected.

Last October, two of your comrades were fatally injured at the Storm Exploration Decline in Nevada.

They were Dale Spring, a 49-year-old miner, and Theodore Milligan, a 38-year-old mine rescue team trainer.

Both Dale and Theodore were part of a team that had been exploring an inactive gold mine. Officials were evaluating the possibility of re-opening that mine.

A three-man team had entered the mine and advanced about 800 feet. Intense heat, high humidity and foggy conditions forced them to retreat.

A second team advanced into the mine and traveled about 2,000 feet before deciding to return to the surface.

Both Dale and Theodore succumbed to the extreme environmental conditions underground. Dale died almost immediately, and Theodore passed away 6 days later.

While their work in the Decline wasn't an emergency rescue operation, these men were still placed in a dangerous situation. Mine rescuers constantly are placed in dangerous situations.

And they never complained. That's what sets mine rescue members apart from others.

I'd like to ask all of you to join me in a moment of silence for Dale and Theodore, and for all mine rescuers who have made the ultimate sacrifice.

Thank you.

Each time we lose a member of our community, that loss is personally and profoundly felt. I know that at times like this, it only reaffirms our commitment to making mining safer and healthier.

Your efforts are paying off.

In the past two years, we have seen tangible results. The American mining industry has just achieved its two safest years on record.

After several years of relative stagnation, the number of miners losing their lives dropped to a new record low of 72 in 2001 and then to 67 last year.

That means we sent 18 more miners home to their families in a safe and healthy condition in 2002 and 2001 than in 2000.

This is great news, and especially meaningful to the Mine Safety and Health Administration, which this year marked its 25th anniversary.

Since MSHA's creation, the number of fatalities has declined by 71 percent.

But we won't stop there. We will continue to strive to meet our health and safety performance goals.

And the more we do collectively, the fewer opportunities you will have to put your mine rescue skills to the test.

We hope that testing your skills will be limited to contests like this.

That's a goal we can all agree upon.

Our president George W. Bush shares that goal. As does my boss, Secretary of Labor Elaine L. Chao.

Now, I know you're eager for the presentation of awards to get under way, but please, let me say again, how proud of you I am, and how thankful I am for your commitment and dedication.

Thank you for your efforts, for your passion, for your dedication, and for your compassion toward your fellow miners. You make us all proud to be part of this great fraternity.