HARRISBURG — Mine safety and the welfare of coal miners in the Illinois basin will soon get a boost.
Southeastern Illinois College and coal mine training partner, Illinois Eastern Community Colleges, will open their long awaited Simulated Mine Training Facility. A grand opening will happen at 11:30 a.m. Wednesday, May 31, at SIC’s Harrisburg campus. The community is invited to attend and tour the new facility. Light refreshments will be served.
Mike Thomas, dean of Workforce Education at IECC, said the new building is set up to meet the needs of local mines for underground safety training.
“It is set up like a continuous miner section with giant columns, simulated smoke and a ventilation system that simulates the tunnels of the coal mines,” he said.
In 2015, according the Mine Safety and Health Administration, the coal mining industry’s fatality and injury rates reached an all-time low, in part because of training facilities like the one at SIC.
Leo Mitchell, an associate professor of mining technology at IECC, is one of the instructors who will be using the new, 12,000 square-foot training facility to teach the next generation of coal miners.
"It will offer us a way to help miners understand what they are supposed to be doing in case of emergency," Mitchell said, "and to learn how to respond in an environment where they are not in actual harm’s way.”
Mitchell said exercises in escape, first aid and self-rescue are all part of what can be taught by using the simulator. Additionally, the new control room, which sits adjacent to the main simulator building, has monitors and cameras which function with infrared and thermal imaging technology.
“We use an imitation smoke system to flood the environment to recreate an emergency situation," Mitchell said. "The miners will have compromised vision, but those of us monitoring the exercises will be able to track their responses as a result of those imaging technologies."
Lori Cox, associate dean of Workforce & Community Education, said in a news release that the new facility will put the college in standing to be an eligible location for the national mine safety and rescue competition in upcoming years.
“We look forward to using the facility as part of our yearly Mine Rescue and Skills competition that brings in competitors from all over the region and as far away as West Virginia,” Cox said. “We are excited to offer this type of training to our region with the latest technology to present safe scenarios for mine rescue operations to coal mines.”
The college broke ground for the facility in July 2014, expecting a completed facility by that fall. However, when state funding hit a standstill during the early days of the state's budget impasse, the facility was placed on hold, even though funds had already been sent and work had begun.
With help from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources and local lawmakers, the college resumed construction in late 2016.
Funding for the project initially came from a state investment program meant to help make the coal industry more competitive, as $220,000 came from a Coal Competitiveness Grant from the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Development, and an additional $15,000 was contributed by each of the colleges, the release said.
The schools train about 1,000 miners a year and between 300 and 500 of them are new to coal mining. The facility is housed on the north side of campus adjacent to the burn tunnel and the fire science outdoor classroom, also used for coal mine training.
For information on coal mining technology classes or the upcoming mine safety and rescue training event, visit www.sic.edu/coal or call 618-252-5400 ext. 2360.