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In the Beginning ... The Early Days of Mine Rescue


In the pioneer studies of mine disasters and their causes, it was found important and necessary to examine conditions in a mine as soon as possible after an explosion or fire. This need led to establishing mine-safety stations and railroad cars. Although the original purpose of these stations and cars was to aid in technical studies, the courageous rescue work performed was so humanitarian and spectacular that the stations and cars soon were referred to as "mine-rescue" stations and cars.

MSHA - Early Pullman Car


Inspection party, composed of Secretary of the Interior, Ballinger; Director of the Bureau of Mines, Dr. Joseph A. Holmes; Dr. J. J. Rutledge and two others; with a Bureau of Mines rescue car in the background at Marianna, Pa. (Rachel & Agnes Mines of the Pittsburgh Buffalo Company - December 1907).

When the Bureau was created there were four stations in the coal fields -- at Pittsburgh, Pa., established in 1908; Urbana, Ill., in 1908; Knoxville, Tenn., in 1909; and Seattle, Wash., in 1909. During 1910 stations were added at McAlester, Okla., and Birmingham, Ala. In 1913, a motor-rescue truck was provided at the Birmingham station to speed up the work, and in 1915 another was added at the Pittsburgh, Pa., station.


"Towards the end of an era ..."

MSHA - Last of the Rescue Cars

During the Panama-Pacific Exposition in San Francisco, in 1915, miners were trained at a temporary rescue station. Seven mine-rescue cars were operated during the first 2 years; car No. 8 was added on Nov. 25, 1912. The distribution of cars was as follows:

    Car No. 1, in the anthracite field, with headquarters at Wilkes-Barre, Pa.

    Car No. 2, in the coal fields of New Mexico, Colorado, and Utah, with headquarters at Trinidad, Colo., Salt Lake City, Utah, and finally with permanent headquarters at Burnham, Colo., a suburb of Denver.

    Car No. 3, in the coal fields of western Kentucky, Indiana, and Illinois, with headquarters at Evansville, Ind.

    Car No. 4, in the coal fields of Wyoming, northern Colorado, and Utah, with headquarters at Rock Springs, Wyo.; this car finally was assigned permanent headquarters at Pittsburgh, Kan., in the Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Arkansas coal fields.

    Car No. 5, in the coal fields of Montana and Washington, with headquarters at Seattle, Wash., and later at Billings, Mont.

    Car No. 6, in the coal fields of western Pennsylvania and northern West Virginia, with headquarters at Pittsburgh, Pa.

    Car No. 7, in the coal fields of southern West Virginia, western Virginia, eastern Kentucky, and eastern Tennessee, with headquarters at Huntington, W. Va.

    Car No. 8, in the Lake Superior metal-mining region at Ironwood, Mich.

Stations and cars were equipped both with mine-rescue and first-aid equipment, much of which is the beginning came from England and Germany. The railroad cars were former Pullman sleeping cars purchased by the Government. Interiors were remodeled to include an office, training and workroom, and cooking, eating, and sleeping quarters. Each station or car was directed by a mining engineer of practical miner trained in rescue- and first-aid methods. Personnel of Car No. 8 included a mine surgeon in 1914, and later Public Health surgeons were assigned to most cars. Work of the stations and cars was under the immediate supervision of James W. Paul, mining engineer. For administration purposes the work was divided in July 1911 among various mining areas off the United States, first into 6 sections; in October 1912 into 9 districts; and in 1915 into 10 districts. These 10 districts were: the anthracite, the Pittsburgh, Pa., Southern, Lake Superior, Southwestern, Central, Southeastern, Rocky Mountain, Northern Pacific, and California-Nevada.

A pair of mine rescue specialists standing a
"full-dress inspection" for Holmes himself, left.
MSHA - Early Mine Rescue Team Standing Inspection

The chief work of station and car personnel was to investigate as quickly as possible the cause of a mine disaster, assist in the rescue of miners, and give first aid; and as ordinary routine, to train miners in safety, in rescue- and first-aid equipment and methods, and to examine safety conditions at mines and recommend improvements. The cars continuously visited mining centers in all States to present demonstrations, lectures, and training. When a mine disaster occurred near a station, the employee in charge, with available help and equipment, proceeded at once by train or other transportation to the mine. When a rescue car was used, it was moved by a special locomotive or connected to the first appropriate train available. In the initial 5 years, 300 mine accidents, including explosions, fires, and cave-ins, were investigated. In approximate totals, 290,00 people visited the stations and cars; 230,000 attended lectures or demonstrations; 34,000 were given training in rescue- and first-aid methods, and 11,700 training certificated were issued, increasing continuously from 509 in 1911 in 4,258 in 1915.



"Early Mine Rescue Team"

MSHA - Early Mine Rescue Team

During the first five years, three of the five men who lost their lives while wearing oxygen breathing apparatus were Bureau of Mines employees.

Many mine operators were induced to operate under a system in which safety was considered of first importance. In 1915 more than 170 mining companies (out of a total of some 3,000 large coal-mining companies and 12,000 smaller coal-mining companies) had individually, or through the association of two or more companies, established 76 mine-rescue stations at which there were some 1,200 sets of oxygen breathing apparatus besides the auxiliary equipment for first-aid and fire-fighting work. By then, there were also 12 mine-rescue cars operated by individual mining companies about their own properties. The Bureau of Mines endeavored to stimulate similar action by other companies.

The miners also began taking up safety work and appointing safety committees, particularly in regions that had been visited by Government mine-rescue cars.

Representatives of States, mine operators, and miners all cooperated with the Bureau of Mines in safety work, and this cooperation, from year to year, became more and more an important factor in the progress of the safety movement.


Forbes Field, Pittsburgh, Pa. Mine Rescue Contest The first national mine-safety demonstration was held at Forbes field, in Pittsburgh, on October 30, 1911. The demonstration was planned and managed by engineers of the Bureau, with the aid of miners and coal operators of the Pittsburgh district. It embraced exhibits that demonstrated the character of nearly every branch of the Bureau's investigative work in relation to mine accidents, including first-aid and mine-rescue work, coal-dust explosions, and also special coal-dust explosions at the Bureau's experimental mine at Bruceton, Pa. Approximately 15,000 persons attended the demonstration. The principal field exhibits were witnessed by President William H. Taft and many officials of both the National and State governments. Teams of miners trained in first-aid and rescue work from every coal-mining State took part in this stimulating demonstration.

An international conference of representatives of mining experiment stations was held in Pittsburgh, Sept. 14 to 21, 1912, to discuss plans and methods of carrying on experiments relating to mine safety and the interpretation and comparison of the results obtained, to suggest special experiments that could be made to most advantage at a particular station, and to form a permanent organization to promote the exchange of information. In response to invitations sent to those countries having mine-experiment stations or contemplating the establishment of such stations, delegates present were as follows: Austria-Hungary, Julian Cxaplinski, royal mining engineer; Belgium, Victor-Wattayne, inspector general of mines; Germany, Carl Beyling, bergassessor, director of the Dortmund experiment station. Charles E. Munroe, consulting explosives chemist, and George S. Rice, chief mining engineer of the Bureau of Mines, represented the United States. William O�Conner, a mining engineer of Wales, was invited to take part in the meeting as and unofficial representative of Great Britain. J. Taffanel, director of the Lievin experiment station, who was to have represented France, was unexpectedly recalled just before the conference on account of a mine disaster. Most of the time allotted to the conference was spent in giving papers, discussing investigations at the Pittsburgh experiment station, and in observing coal-dust explosions at the experimental mine. The delegates agreed that it was desirable to form a permanent organization; that approval by the various nations to forming of the organization, and the appointment of delegates be affected through regular diplomatic channels; and that the next meeting be held, in 1914, in England or Belgium. However, owing to the outbreak of war in Europe, the meeting had to be postponed for an indefinite period.


In the third year of the Bureau, interest among mine officials, operators, and miners in first aid led to a number of public first-aid contests in various States. The most important of these was the anthracite intercollieries contest at Valley View Park, Pa., held under the auspices of the American Red Cross, and the contests held at Greensburg, Pa., Birmingham, Ala., Knoxville, Ky., Gary, W. Va., and Toms Creek, Mich. Such contests began to be held annually as a regular event; company and intercompany contests were followed by State and interstate contests. Most intercompany contests and all State and interstate contests were held under the auspices of the Bureau, which supplied personnel to take care of the arrangements and do the judging. In 1915, the Bureau aided in 47 contests. The hope of being first in these contests caused miners of each compering team to maintain their first-aid skill at its peak. These contests aided materially in creating interest in first-aid. Another result was the Bureau's work on preparation of regulations for mine-rescue maneuvers and first-aid and mine-rescue contests in which breathing apparatus, safety lamps, and other safety appliances were to be used. The plan was to rate the men according to their proficiency and give prizes.

> From September 23 to 26, 1912, a conference on methods of conducting mine-rescue operations and of administering first aid to the injured was held at the Pittsburgh Experiment Station. A number of prominent mine operators, mine surgeons and physicians, heads of safety and mine-inspections departments, State mine inspectors, and various members of the Bureau were present. The conference covered first-aid methods, mine hospitals and their equipment, rescue training and safety devices, and resolutions regarding approved apparatus, equipment, and methods were adopted. An outgrowth of the conference was the organization of the American Mine Safety Association, the purpose of which was to cooperate with the Bureau of Mines and aid in the introduction of such safety methods as were officially approved by the Bureau and adopted by the Association.