Rescuing miners in emergencies

Local mine rescue teams put their skills to test

At exactly 01:30 hours, a team of eight men tether together, moving carefully along the narrow passage into the bowels of the Victoria Falls Hydro Power Station to restore an air ventilator, which had just collapsed.

Mine rescue team members, known as the Brigades Men, receive adequate briefing on the accident and are given a sketch map to find their way using an escape route to execute their operation within a limited time to save the lives of men underground. 

In one of the most highly technical scenarios, the Brigades Men were tasked to investigate sudden smoke and respond to the emergency in a bid to avoid extensive damage to the Zambia Electricity Supply Corporation (ZESCO) turbines.  

Each brigade member wears an artificial oxygen apparatus, providing fresh air in the confined space. The light is dim, but battery-powered headlights on the team’s helmets make things a little clearer.

The passage from the over ground leading to the turbines underground is a complicated maze and pitch black. One of the major obstacles is the gas content of the atmosphere.

But this was the beginning of a grueling 75-minute exercise at the 22nd Zambia Mine Rescue Association competitions held in Livingstone recently. The competition is held annually.

Even though it is competitive simulation, the exertion is real. With temperatures rising to 35 degrees, the breathing apparatus and safety gear the competitors must wear and carry makes it hard and confusing and hot.

This was the toughest challenge the Brigades Men faced. Unfortunately, all the teams failed to successfully restore the collapsed ventilator due to the limited time in which to execute the task.

However, the seven mine rescue teams from across Zambia displayed extraordinary resilience by testing their emergency response skills and knowledge in the national final heat.

The national competition drew teams from, CLM-Luanshya Mine, Mopani-Nkana, Mopani-Mufulira, NFCA-Chambishi, Lubambe Copper Mine and Konkola Copper Mines-Nchanga. The host team ZESCO did not participate in this year’s competition.

Konkola Copper Mines (KCM) Nchanga team B emerged as winners, while Mopani-Mufulira team B were runners up and third position was taken up by Lubambe Copper Mine team A.

The 2019 winners, KCM-Nchanga team B, will represent Zambia at the International Mine Rescue Competition to be held in Australia in 2021.

The annual event sponsored by MineARC Systems of South Africa, is a tailored real-life workplace experience on safety emergencies and accidents.

The teams were tested for knowledge, firefighting skills, first aid response, use of emergency equipment and decision-making ability under stress in a simulated underground emergency.

Mine rescue team members, also known as Brigades Men, are a mainstay of the mine accidents preparedness crack squads in Zambia.

The Brigades Men, who have offered themselves on voluntary terms, are the first rescue response personnel to respond to all types of mine emergencies including fires, explosions and rock falls underground.

The mining companies in Zambia provide adequate emergency response capabilities and equipment and maintain a network of mine rescue stations in all operating units within a specified geographical area. 

Chamber of Mines Chief Executive Officer Mr Sokwani Chilembo praised the Zambia Mine Rescue for setting up a unique mine rescue competition format, which will play a pivotal role in equipping mine rescue teams with better knowledge and exposure.

Mr Sokwani says the Chamber of Mines and Mopani Copper Mines Training Centre (MCTC) were to sign a Memorandum of Understanding to allow a world class Technical Education Vocational and Entrepreneurship Training Authority (TEVETA) approved certification and training for mine rescue in Zambia.

“TEVETA has streamlined training programmes in the Mine Rescue Services and developed a curriculum approved by the Ministry of Higher education,” Mr Sokwani says.

The training programmes will be conducted in line with regional Chamber of Mines like the Minerals Council of South Africa and the International Mine Rescue Board.

Zambia Mine Rescue Association president Maron Chongo has also commended the Brigades Men for saving thousands of lives through challenging rescue operations both in underground and open pit mines.

Mr Chongo praised the gallant Brigades Men who have now become a beacon of hope among miners who look forward to reuniting with their families in an event of a mine accident.

“These competitions are important in a bid to avoid complacency among the mine rescue team members. This exercise is paramount in the mining industry because it borders on saving lives and preventing fatal accidents.” Mr Chongo notes.

“We shall keep on improving as we have not started to benchmark with world standards following Zambia’s participation and the only African country during the international mine rescue competition held in Russia last year.”

MineARC Systems of South Africa representative Amanda Bossenger says her company is a proud sponsor of the Zambia National Mine Rescue final heat Competitions.

Ms Bossenger says her company, which has been in existence for the last 20 years, provides reliable safety equipment in over 50 countries across the world.

“This competition does not only end in achieving meritorious results but the knowledge to save lives and mitigate emergency situations in the mining industry. I am quite happy with the rescue operations relays and medleys,” Ms Bossenger said at the end of the competition.

By Brian Malama, Zambia Daily Mail.

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