Friday, July 28, 2017

15th Anniversary Of Quecreek Mine Rescue Celebrated In Somerset

Former Gov. Mark Schweiker, former DEP Secretary David Hess, Joe Sbaffoni, then head of Bituminous Mine Safety, several miners rescued from the Quecreek Mine and current DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell Thursday joined rescue site owner Bill Arnold and many others to celebrate the 15th anniversary of the historic Quecreek Mine Rescue.
"My outlook was that we were doing everything we could to get nine for nine," said Gov. Schweiker "It was meant to be reassuring. We never used the word 'optimistic,' but we thought we had basis to say that we were 'confident.' We knew we were doing everything humanly possible to effect a rescue ... And that generates confidence."
"When you have a chance to show the citizenry what your team is made of, and what the state's emergency response team can do when it's warranted, you should pour it on," Gov. Schweiker said. "You should get out there and really give it your best."
“We had the commitment that this was going to be a rescue, not a recovery,” said Joe Sbaffoni. “It saved nine miners, brought them back to their families. But it also set a tone in Pennsylvania and throughout the country in terms of mine safety.”
Former DEP Secretary David Hess thanked the citizens of Somerset County for their efforts to support the rescue operation saying, “The first thing they said when we got here was ‘What do you need?’”
To illustrate the character of the Somerset community, he told the story of how, during one briefing of the miners’ families they were interrupted by a representative of the Salvation Army who read a very special email, “The families of United Flight 93 would like the families, friends and residents of Somerset to know that we are thinking of you and praying for you today. During our time of tragedy you extended yourselves to us, and tirelessly continue to do so. We consider you our family, and we sincerely hope and pray that the recovery effort will be successful in bringing your loved ones home.  May God bless you, keep you, and love you all.”
He also said thank you to the staff at DEP and its sister agencies who, working with private drill rig and equipment operators and the Somerset community, worked so hard to rescue the miners, both directly and in supporting roles.
“Today it’s a popular thing to bash public employees, cut their budgets and cut staff, but the Quecreek Mine Rescue stands as an amazing example of the kinds of things public employees do, especially at DEP, to protect the public,” said Hess. "Through it all, public employees still do their job with the resources they have."
“The rescue of these men is one DEP’s, and Pennsylvania’s, finest moments,” said DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell. “I am proud of the work that DEP staff did to bring these men home to their families, and even more proud of the efforts DEP has taken since to ensure that we don’t have miners at risk.”
McDonnell, then a DEP employee in the Office Of Pollution Prevention, recounted how they, along with everyone else, waited for the outcome of the rescue operation and how everyone in the agency pitched in.
“Everyone at DEP was part of the Deep Mine Safety Program for those few days,” said McDonnell.
On July 24, 2002, sections of the Quecreek Mine in Lincoln Township began rapidly filling with water, trapping nine miners while nine other miners scrambled to safety.
Thanks to the efforts of DEP staff, local community EMS services and volunteers, along with federal Mine Safety and Health administration staff and officials from the Black Wolf Coal company, all nine men were safely rescued after a harrowing ordeal lasting more than three days.
After the rescue, DEP and the General Assembly took steps to improve mine worker safety by expanding safety precautions and thoroughly reviewing and expanding mapping data to identify potential hazards before they could threaten worker safety.
These efforts include the creation of the Board of Coal Mine Safety, increased buffers between mines to prevent flooding, and the Mine Families First Response and Communications Advisory Council, which helps the families of miners in an emergency like the Quecreek rescue.
“The Quecreek rescue was a heroic effort that I hope never has to be repeated in any of Pennsylvania’s coal mines,” said Secretary McDonnell. “Thanks to the actions and work that DEP and the legislature have taken since the rescue, we can make sure mine workers are going home to their families every night.”
The Senate this week passed Senate Resolution 172 (Stefano-R-Fayette/Somerset) designating July 22-29 as Nine for Nine 15th Anniversary Remembrance Week.
For more information on the rescue, visit the Quecreek Mine Rescue Foundation website.
(Photo: Joe Sbaffoni, Gov. Mark Schweiker, Sen. Patrick Stefano and DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell.)
Related Links:
-- Click Here to watch a video produced by the Commonwealth Media Services documenting the critical decisions made during the rescue effort.
-- Click Here for the DEP Commemorative Booklet “Nine for Nine” with lots of photos from each phase of the rescue and the names of key DEP players.
-- Click Here for the DEP Timeline Of The Quecreek Mine Rescue.
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