HARRISBURG — It’s the hope that the knowledge used during Southeastern Illinois College’s Mine Rescue and Skills Competition go unused, but they are kept sharp, just in case.
Mine rescue teams from across the region descended on SIC’s Harrisburg campus to participate in the school’s annual competition featuring events focused on firefighting, first aid, problem-solving and hose management.
Teams of six to 10 suited up and jumped into a simulated mine shaft to put out a live fire, worked their way through smoked-filled corridors with zero visibility on a search-and-rescue mission, and worked their way through a mock mine disaster.
Teams are judged based on time and accuracy — two minutes are added to a team’s time per mistake — with first- and second-place awards being given each of the two days and an overall award presented on the last day.
While the trophies and bragging rights are nice, the event is part of a bigger picture, according to Mike Thomas, dean of workforce education for Illinois Eastern Community Colleges, one of the competition’s organizers. Thomas said these competitions are continuing education for teams and are required by the federal government. He said each team is required to compete at least twice a year, but, he said, most do more than that.
Tom Benner is the director of the Office of Mines and Minerals with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. He said his organization is one of the regulating bodies for mine and mineral safety in the state. He isn’t required to come to the SIC competition, but said he enjoys doing it if for no other reason than to see old friends. He said while the competition is fun, there is always the weight of what the training is for — saving lives.
“You can’t ever forget the fact of what the purpose of (this is),” Benner said.
Cory Murphy is the “map man” for Foresight Energy South’s rescue team. He said he’s been on the job since July but also has experience on a rescue team from his time studying at Western Kentucky University.
“It doesn’t really matter who wins,” Murphy said of the competition — he said it’s more about learning. “It gives us good preparation for real life."
Thomas and Benner said the events change a bit each year to keep up with the industry's best practices.
Thomas said it’s the goal for this knowledge to just be academic, but skills need to stay keen just in case.
“No one wants to ever go in in a disaster but we want them to be as prepared as they can be,” Thomas said.
EDITOR'S NOTE: This story has been updated to correctly spell Thomas Benner's name.