The mine rescue team scored perfectly and outpaced top teams from around the country to win for the second time in three attempts
by Jesse Morton, Technical Writer
The Wellmore Coal Co. mine rescue team won the coal mine rescue national championship on August 8. At the Coal Mine Rescue Competition for the 2022 National Mine Rescue, First Aid, Bench and Technician Team Contest, held at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Kentucky, the team attained a perfect score and outpaced 39 other teams from around the country to take the trophy for the second time in three attempts.
The result caps a long winning streak that made the team a favorite going into the competition. After winning the national championship in 2017, the team outright won 11 contests through 2021. So far in 2022, the team won the Virginia Governor’s cup, the Harlan County Safety Days Mine Rescue Contest, and the Southern West Virginia Mine Rescue Competition. It finished second overall after placing first on day one at the Virginia Mining Institute Mine Rescue Contest. As of this writing, the team was prepared to compete in the Fallen Heroes Mine Rescue Contest.
Tail Captain Will Altizer said the team entered Rupp Arena ready to defend a reputation and build a dynasty. “After 2017 nationals, we have at least won every other contest that we’ve been in,” he said.
“Even the northern teams, I believe, thought we were the team to beat,” Altizer said. “Our mindset going in is that we could do it. If we put our best foot forward, we could win.”
Since 2017, the team had replaced all but four members. The field unit was led by Captain Shannon Moore, who was gunning for his second ring. Former championship team members Altizer, who primarily serves as a trainer, and Todd Ward, command center attendant, ran support. Under Moore, in the field, was Anthony Grizzle, front gas man; “Spanky” Shannon Sutherland, back gas man; Jordan Curry, map man; former championship team member Caleb Schoeff, briefing officer; Brandon Rasnake Patient, and Shaun Allen Patient.
The contest was a one-day event and Wellmore Coal Co. was among the first dozen teams to compete.
The problem scenario was rescuing four miners missing after an event in a mine. Previous mine rescue personnel “had cut into an adjacent mine that was next to them,” Altizer said. “Other teams, in this hypothetical scenario, had already explored the adjacent mine, looking for the miners,” he said. “They hadn’t found them in the adjacent mine.”
Skills assessed included, but were not limited to, managing ventilation and mapping. “We could ventilate through that adjacent mine and clear all these irrespirable gases or explosive gases out of the mine in order to rescue the people through a different mine,” he said. “Or we could use the fan that we had also.”
The team found all four miners. Two were deceased.
Three ventilations were required.
“Three of the guys were in two separate barricades located in the mine,” Altizer said. “They barricaded themselves in, and there were irrespirable atmospheres in front of the barricades.”
The team successfully and accurately mapped everything on the field, and completed their run in well under 44 minutes.
It was a time nobody could beat.
“They have a clock that is visible for the other teams and the people watching the contest,” Altizer said. “Once they got over 44 minutes, they were done, no matter how good they did.”
The Coal Mine Rescue Competition ended on Tuesday, and the results were officially announced on Thursday, August 11. Wellmore Coal Co. achieved a perfect score with the best time, winning its second national championship in three attempts.
Altizer said the achievement was the natural result of years of prepping and training. “So much went into us being able to do it,” he said.
“The team, the company officials that allowed us to train to get to this point, the dedication from a lot of people,” Altizer said. “We worked very hard for a long time to get there. Nobody gave it to us.”
Moore said winning a second ring felt better than winning the first. As the tip of the spear, Moore led the unit and was responsible for a majority of the pivotal snap decisions. He described his performance as “excellent.”
Moore said the victory properly capped a long string of wins that followed a period of adversity. “After 2017, we did have some obstacles,” he said.
“In 2020, the team got back on track,” Moore said. “Then our teamwork got better as we went. Our trust and communication got better. It all helped us strive forward and get back to where we are at right now.”
Tail Captain Todd Ward said winning a second ring marks a highpoint for him, as well as the the end of his run on, the team. Recently, he was promoted and his new position will prevent him from continuing with the team. “I will be more distant, but I will still be there in some way, form or fashion,” he said.
General Manager Gary Horn said the championship merely highlights the importance Wellmore Coal Co. places on safety and teamwork. “It is not about the trophies,” he said.
“It is about having a team ready and willing and able to go to a disaster, go to a needed area, and do a good job,” Horn said. The trophies are “nice,” he said, but are more of a way to “grade yourself and know that we have competent people ready and able to face a disaster and come out on top.”
Having the team gives the more than 450 employees of Wellmore Coal Co. “confidence that if something does happen, we’ve got the best around to take care of business,” Horn said.
Horn said the team is to be congratulated, but also reminded that it, alone, is not capable of a national championship. The effort required is drawn from the entire staff. “When these men are off training or are at a competition, our other employees have to step in their place,” he said. “They have got to be part of the solution and have got to keep the operation running.”
Safety Director Brett Childress said the win showed how the entire staff of Wellmore Coal Co. could unite in an effort to attain the highest possible results. “We look at it as a team win. We are one team,” he said.
“And these men are not only national champions, as measured by trophies, but they are the team that people want to respond to true life emergencies,” Childress said. “And they are also extremely valuable employees and members of their families and their communities.”
Subsidiary of Metinvest’s United Coal Co., Wellmore Coal Co., headquartered in Big Rock, Virginia, and operating in three states, runs two underground mines, one surface mine, seven contract mines, three shops, two preparation plants and rail-loading facilities, a lab and an administrative office.