U’s first mine rescue team wins big


The University of Utah’s first-ever mining engineering mine rescue team won big at the 2020 Society of Mining, Metallurgy and Exploration Engineers (SME) annual conference in late February. The U led in the first aid and breathing apparatus categories, and took the overall competition. Four other more experienced mining schools participated in the event, so the U’s win took SME attendees by surprise. For the competitors, the victory was the result of lots of hard work and tenacity. The winners were Victor Harrell (trainer), Travis Brammer, Rebecca Ray, Stephen Hall, Jack Peterson, Paige Epsten, and Amy Richens.

Eleven of the 15 mining engineering programs in the country have mine rescue teams. Until last year, the U lacked one Stephen Hall, Rebecca Ray, Jack Peterson, Baily Simmons, Aaron Young and Amy Richens all in the  Mining Engineering Program, were determined to create a team at the U.

“I’ve been an EMT and a ski patroller, so I was really interested in starting a mine rescue team at the U. ” said Hall, co-founder of the U’s mine rescue team. He and Spencer Kopplin (B.S. 2018) began researching what it took to create a mine rescue team in the fall 2017 semester. “We found out we would need a great deal of equipment and money to create a team. We were overwhelmed.”

During the summer semester of 2018, Hall, along with Brianna Caldwell (B.S., ‘19) and Garret Caldwell (B.S. ‘19), studied the Mining Safety and Health Administration’s (MSHA) mine rescue training manual and volunteered at various mine rescue competitions, acting as injured miners for the simulations. They got advice from other institutions and rescue teams, and learned from industry professionals. During an internship at Skyline Coal Mine, Hall completed the MSHA 40-hour training at USU Eastern, where he learned from instructors with decades of underground mining experience.

“They gave advice for young mining engineers, and talked about being underground, and their mine rescue experiences. Hearing about the lives they’d saved made me want to start the mine rescue team even more,” Hall said.

The instructors from USU Eastern donated used mine rescue equipment to the U’s future the mine rescue team and by the Fall 2018 semester, more mining engineering majors began to join the effort to create the program. Cementation, a development and mining company, provided a professional mine rescue trainer that has been invaluable to the team, Victor Harrel. Many other corporations donated funding, equipment, and time—including Ron Key, Jenmar’s mining rescue expert.

By the Fall semester 2019 began, the U mine rescue team had 10 people who met twice a week to train. The training included working on medical skills and practicing different rescue scenarios. In addition, team members Rebecca Ray and Amy Richens put in a significant amount of time securing additional necessary gear.

The team was scheduled to attend the Winnemucca competition in March, which has been canceled due to Covid-19 epidemic. The team is still studying and preparing for competitions this fall. They are thankful for all the support they have received from industry.

Media Contacts

Lisa Potterresearch/science communications specialist, University of Utah Communications
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