Penn State to host Eastern Collegiate Mine Rescue Contest

University hosting contest for first time March 30 at Snider Agricultural Arena

Through the SME Eastern Collegiate Mine Rescue Contest, students are able to develop and practice the skills necessary to respond to a mine rescue emergency when they go into the workforce. Credit: Penn StateCreative Commons

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Penn State will host the 2019 Eastern SME (Society for Mining, Metallurgy and Exploration) Spring Collegiate Mine Rescue Contest from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday, March 30, at the Penn State Snider Agricultural Arena. Seven competitive mine rescue teams — including Penn State’s Mount Nittany Mine Rescue Team — are expected to compete in this year's event.

“This is the first time that Penn State will host the contest,” said Jeffery Kohler, professor and chair of the mining engineering program in Penn State’s John and Willie Leone Family Department of Energy and Mineral Engineering. “It will be an honor to host teams from the University of Kentucky, Virginia Tech, and West Virginia University, as well as the professionals from the mining companies and federal and state agencies who will serve as contest administrators and judges.”

Mine rescue contests are intended to perfect the skills and test the knowledge of team members who may need to respond to a mine emergency.

“Mine emergencies, such as explosions or fires, are exceedingly rare in the nation’s more than 600 active underground mines” Kohler said. “However, when they do occur, self-escape can be quite challenging. In these instances, specially trained mine rescue teams are called upon to enter the mine and attempt a rescue of any trapped miners. The mine openings may contain toxic gases, visibility may be near zero, passageways may have collapsed, and the mine’s infrastructure may have been compromised.”

The Mine Safety and Health Administration requires that all underground mines have rescue teams. These teams are required to practice on a regular basis and to demonstrate their mastery of the required competencies. Through collegiate mine rescue contests, students are able to develop and practice the skills necessary to respond to a mine rescue emergency when they go into the workforce.

Penn State’s team was originally founded in 2010 by two 1983 mining engineering graduates, Edward Zeglen Jr. and Susan Bealko. Zeglen, chief mine engineer, and Bealko, corporate safety director, both at GMS Mine Repair & Maintenance Inc., launched the team in response to the nation’s growing need for professional mine rescue teams. Zeglen now coaches the Mount Nittany Mine Rescue Team.

From left to right, Ed Zeglen, coach of Penn State's Mount Nittany Mine Rescue Team; Sekhar Bhattacharyya, associate professor of mining engineering; and William Dean, mine rescue trainer from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, at a past Collegiate Mine Rescue Contest.  Credit: Penn StateCreative Commons

“We go through a simulated mine maze searching for survivors and handling dangers like gas removal along the way,” said Zeglen. “We also test our breathing apparatus and make sure they are functioning properly. I have always enjoyed training young engineers throughout my career and teaching safety first. Having mine rescue knowledge is an important part of mining safety, ventilation and roof control.” 

The team has been meeting weekly to practice emergency scenarios and prepare for the contest. T.J.Greene, a longstanding member who served as the team’s captain at two previous contests, is currently mentoring Vanilo Antonio, current president of the Mount Nittany Mine Rescue Team, and helping prepare the new members.

“Despite the fact that we are doing simulations and are safe, I’m gaining skills that are used in real life to help miners that are in dangerous situations,” said Antonio. “We are students that one day might save another person’s life because we have the training and knowledge needed to react in a dangerous situation inside a mine.”

Sekhar Bhattacharyya, associate professor of mining engineering, has been advising the team for the past year. Bhattacharyya has previously worked in mining production and enjoys helping the students prepare.

“Miners are never prepared enough for emergencies despite thorough training. I expect all of these students to lead their future employers and build a safe work environment,” said Bhattacharyya.

A mine rescue situation will be set up in the Snider Agricultural Arena. Local members from SME and local responders are invited to the event.

“In many instances, they do not have many opportunities to view such competitions,” said Bhattacharyya. “The insight gained from this experience will help them to better prepare those who may deal with mine emergencies in the future.”

This contest is free and open to the public.

Last Updated March 12, 2019