CHARLESTON - If a disaster such as the one that struck the Upper Big Branch mine last year hits another coal mine in the future, a new emergency response vehicle will be on the scene assisting with rescue efforts.
State officials unveiled the $750,000 truck during a ceremony on the Capitol steps March 8. The vehicle sports several features to aid mine rescue teams, such as global positioning system technology to map mines, advanced weather and lightning detection, and a state-of-the-art communications system.
Also at the ceremony were the families of miners who died on the job.
"Any time that you can have an improvement that can increase safety in mining is a wonderful achievement," said Melissa Clark, whose husband Robert Clark died in the UBB disaster. "I just wish they had this in place prior to (UBB). No one can ever foresee something like this taking place."
The unveiling of the emergency response vehicle came almost a year after the UBB disaster killed 29 people. In a preliminary report, federal investigators blamed the explosion on a build up of methane and coal dust in the Massey Energy mine.
The security chief at the mine also has been arrested and charged with trying to obstruct the investigation and get rid of documents sought by investigators.
The truck was paid for entirely using moneys collected by the state through fees assessed for mine violations, so no tax dollars were spent, according to acting Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin. Asked why the state didn't make such an investment before the UBB explosion, particularly after the 2006 Sago mine disaster, Tomblin said as far as he knew, the technology wasn't available until recently.
"This is the first and only vehicle like this in the country," he said. "... I just had one of the brothers of a miner at Sago tell me had this technology been available, his brother could've been saved."
The Sago mine disaster occurred after an explosion caused a cave-in in the mine, trapping 14 miners. Only one miner made it out alive.
By contrast, the UBB explosion killed the 29 miners almost instantaneously. There was no chance for rescue.
The vehicle was designed and built by Spurlock Industries, owned by West Virginia-native K.C. Spurlock. It boasts features such as:
* satellite GPS, technology for mine mapping, bore hole locating and gas well detection;
* multi-station gas chromategraph technology lab with rapid sample analysis and includes two remote, portable labs that can be deployed for additional sampling requirements;
* advanced lightening and weather detection up to 300 miles;
* complete full featured mobile office complex with multiple smart boards and engineering equipment;
* advanced interagency, interoperable communications with high-speed military-grade satellite link operating with voice over IP and radio over IP;
* video data recording; and
* internal and external media presentation.
The primary mission of the mine rescue truck is to be used proactively as a safety tool, according to state officials. The vehicle will perform mine site evaluations so that the West Virginia Office of Miners' Health Safety and Training can identify baseline atmospheric readings to identify those mines with potential atmospheric problems before an accident.
The Southern Community and Technical College's Mine Rescue Task Force 1 technical staff will operate the vehicle in the West Virginia coalfields. The truck will be able to assist with any state or national emergency.