The only sound in the darkened mine tunnel is water dripping off limestone walls. A lone injured miner lay motionless on the gravel floor. Five lights pierce the darkness as muffled voices announce the arrival of the rescue team.
“Hold on, Buddy. We are going to get you out of here,” says team captain Casey Slaughter, his voice distorted through his rebreather mask.
Slaughter, an S&T graduate student in mining engineering from Webb City, Mo., barks out commands to the team as the five stabilize the mine’s roof and remove the miner on a wheeled stretcher. Back on the surface, they wrest off the Velcro straps surrounding the miner and he rises and smiles.
This has all been a training exercise at Missouri S&T’s Experimental Mine Facility, which has been drilled out between the railroad tracks and a quarry on the west side of Rolla.
Missouri S&T Mine Rescue has two teams practicing for the Southern Regional Mine Rescue Contest in New Iberia, La., on May 7-9. Slaughter’s team is coming off of a first-place finish in the underground rescue competition during the Missouri Mine Rescue Contest in October 2012, held at S&T’s Experimental Mine. Judges from the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration evaluated Slaughter’s team, another S&T team and 12 professional mining industry teams on how they handled a simulated underground disaster situation.
Although the S&T teams had a home-court advantage, they also competed against industry professionals who work together daily.
It’s kind of like a semi-pro football team going up against a professional football team in the NFL,” Slaughter says.
“Our biggest hurdle has always been the length of time our students are on a team,” Slaughter says. “Due to attrition and graduation each team may have only one or two years together. This is a detriment when you look at the powerhouse teams like Doe Run, who has had nearly the same team for 15-plus years.”
Since the rescue team is literally linked together by a cable, which also relays audio to surface rescuers, familiarity with the rescuer next to you is a plus.
Being linked up with others in mining helped Slaughter in a different way — when he looked for internships, teaching opportunities and a job after graduation.
“What helped were the contacts I made through the S&T Mine Rescue Team. That’s where I got all my internships and two trips to China to teach a short course on mine rescue,” Slaughter says.
This summer, Slaughter will work in a different land down under, when he helps Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, start a mining engineering program.
I can pretty much write my own meal ticket now with my degree and experience from Missouri S&T,” he says. Slaughter plans to graduate with his Ph.D. in 2014.
“Mine rescue is a real big brotherhood,” Slaughter says. “We all have friends out in industry who take care of us and we take care of them.”
Story and video by Terry Barner