Ontario Mine Rescue continues to be prepared

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Focus stays on response during pandemic; competitions cancelled

Photo of Ontario Mine Rescue truckThe 2020 district and provincial competitions may be cancelled, but Ontario Mine Rescue and its almost 900 volunteers continue to be prepared, despite the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“We don’t want to compound the pandemic situation,” Ted Hanley, Ontario Mine Rescue vice president, told a recent OMR technical advisory committee meeting. But “should there be an emergency, we will absolutely marshal a mine rescue response with mine rescue equipment.” 

Shawn Rideout, Chief Mine Rescue Officer, said that across the province mine rescue stations were locked down, and mine substations locked with minimal access to ensure everything is emergency ready.

After suspending all training for about six weeks, limited refresher training resumed in early June with extra precautions including limited class sizes, training outside, and increased cleaning procedures.

“Cancelling the competitions was not something we took lightly,” Rideout said, “and we looked at other options.” 

But at the time of the cancellation in early April, some volunteers had already gone three months without refresher training, he said. Adding competition training when training resumed would have distracted from critical refresher training and review. 

“Refresher training needed to take priority,” Rideout said. 

A few Ontario mines scaled down operations, and all have taken measures to reduce the potential exposure of workers to the virus, district representatives told the meeting. 

Site screening, temperature screening, splash guards, increased cleaning, administrative staff working from home or on rotation, staggered shifts, are almost universal measures for current operations. Others include reduced occupancy on cages, personnel vehicles and in lunchrooms with spaces marked off in all, the cancellation of non-critical contract work, and more. 

But operations are also taking measures to ensure emergency response is available. Vale is conducting daily calls to determine the status of its mine rescue volunteers available, says Vale’s Greg McMillan. As well, the mine rescue substations are locked down, and volunteers will be screened when responding to a callout. 

“Skills and field [training] components are key to what we do,” he said, but online training can provide a bridge until full training resumes. 

Existing plans for the 2020 competition will carry forward to 2021, meaning this year’s scheduled host, Sudbury, will host the provincial event next June, and Southern District, which was to host next year, will now host in 2022.

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