Opinion: Mark Godden - the Mines Rescue Service
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Who will rescue the rescuers?
The Mines Rescue Service has been steadfastly providing reassurance and lifesaving assistance to stricken British miners since 1911, when the Coal Mines Act finally compelled mine owners to make proper provision for the rescue of workers. Today’s Mines Rescue Service has roots that stretch unbroken back to those times. For most of its history, the Mines Rescue Service was securely funded by a coal levy, which worked well while the UK had a large coal mining industry. After decades of contraction, privatisation of the coal industry in 1996 led to the complete removal of this income stream, forcing the Mines Rescue Service to re-invent itself as a not for profit company – Mines Rescue Service Limited (MRSL).
Effective rescue provision remains a legal necessity for all UK mines. Working on a contract basis, MRSL provides round-the-clock cover to a significant (but sadly shrinking) number of economically important coal and non-coal mines across the country. In an effort to balance its books, MRSL has developed a number of specialist training courses in areas such as fire-fighting and confined spaces, servicing a range of industries and agencies away from the mining sector. Despite MRSL’s progressive endeavours to diversify, future funding remains tenuous.
Should MRSL become insolvent and disappear, in my opinion most remaining UK mines would have extreme difficulty in meaningfully complying with the law. In 2004, MRSL’s personnel played a vital role following a devastating factory explosion in Glasgow, where nine people were killed and 33 were injured. After this event, Brian Sweeney, Chief Officer of Strathclyde Fire and Rescue, said, ‘The expertise and commitment of the Mines Rescue team from Crossgates, Fife, was invaluable during the search-and-rescue phase of the tragic incident at Stockline Plastics.’
MRSL’s personnel have unique skills and equipment permitting rescue operations in certain situations where no other emergency service can safely function. Operational areas are not limited to mines, but potentially include places such as rail tunnels and collapsed buildings, where sub-surface rescue techniques and specialist long-duration breathing apparatus may be essential. Mines Rescue Service has never received any financial assistance from central Government, despite being called upon to assist in high profile civil emergencies.
As well being continuously prepared to deal with any mining-related incidents, it appears almost inevitable that given certain terrible circumstances, MRSL will provide the only viable option for lifesaving search-and-rescue work in similar civil environments. Isn’t it, then, high time that these specialist rescuers receive Government funding, like the other emergency services?
Mark Godden is Mine and Quarry Manager at Albion Stone, UK. With more than 30 years’ experience in the sector, Mark has developed new underground dimension stone mining techniques and modern open quarrying methods, has been involved in the supply of Portland Stone for Buckingham Palace, and has worked on the refurbishment of Green Park Tube Station.
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