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Diavik defends regional mine rescue title
Competitions keep mine rescue teams sharp, underground safety adviser says

Thandie Vela
Northern News Services
Published Wednesday, September 21, 2011

When the Diavik diamond mine rescue team received a call about a man unaccounted for underground and reports of heavy smoke, with no ventilation flow in the area, they jumped into action.

NNSL photo/graphic

Diavik mine rescue team members include Kelsey Loessl, from left, Cody Gagne, Brent Karstad, Nathan Pitre and James Venera. Not pictured is team co-ordinator Alex Clinton. - photo courtesy of Diavik Diamond Mines Inc.

With a low ceiling and smoke so thick they could not see their hands in front of their masks, the team of five was forced to drop to their hands and knees and crawl through the broken rock to find the missing person -- all the while receiving directions by radio from the team's co-ordinator, Diavik underground safety adviser Alex Clinton.

Within 45 minutes, the team found the missing man, who had sealed himself in a compressed air line tent as he waited to be brought to safety.

Of course, the heavy smoke was a result of sophisticated generators, the missing man was a team bus driver, and the broken rock was not 450 metres underground at Diavik but on the grass of the field in Fernie, B.C., where the team took the 10th National Western Regional Mine Rescue Competition title on Sept. 10. Even though it was staged, the team carried out the rescue no less valiantly than if it were real, Clinton said.

"You have to have a little bit of imagination, seeing how it's all simulated events," Clinton said, adding the team won the smoke event, and placed well in the other six events at the competition to secure the win.

"Thankfully, we rarely have to do the real thing anymore because safety is first and foremost at all the mines in the North and it's such a focus," Clinton said, noting that in his 20 years in the mining industry, which includes four years at Diavik, he has not had to respond to any major emergencies. "Real events are rare but we still have to train for them and be prepared."

The team qualified for the regional competition by placing in the top two spots at the Workers' Safety and Compensation Commission mine rescue competition this summer in Yellowknife. Ekati placed first in that competition, and while there is a healthy competition between the mines, Clinton said it's just as important to see the other mine rescue teams perform well, because they would be called for support in the case of an emergency.

"The best training we get is at competitions, which are fantastic training," Clinton said. "Whenever we're competing, we keep in mind that the reason we're doing it is to be sharp for real events.

"Ekati and Snap Lake are our mutual aid partners. If there's an event at any mine in the North, we all help each other. So we're competing against them but, of course, you want to see everybody's sharp and training well."

Nonetheless, Clinton boasts this is the team's second consecutive win of the regional competition, held once every two years.

"Win once, that's great," Clinton said. "Win twice, that's spectacular."

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