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Dave D. Lauriski
Assistant Secretary of Labor for Mine Safety and Health
79th Annual National Mine Rescue Association
November 14, 2003
Washington, Pennsylvania

Thank you, Mike Demchak, for that introduction.

I would like to commend the National Mine Rescue Association and its membership for maintaining such high standards for mine rescue for the past 79 years.

For advancing:
-- the sciences and engineering practices related to the prevention and control of mine fires and explosions

-- the safety and effective methods of mine-rescue and recovery operations following mine fires and explosions

-- and for the professional improvement of its members.

I'm pleased to see so many familiar faces here tonight. Welcome to all of you.

It was less than two months ago that many of us - including the Association - were together in Louisville for the National Contest.

And a month before that I had the privilege of attending the local rescue contest in Carmichaels.

As many of you know, Secretary of Labor Elaine L. Chao spent several hours at the national contest meeting mine rescue team members and watching several of the teams compete.

And then joined us to present the awards at our banquet the next evening.

I want you to know that she was extremely impressed by what she saw.

It's the first time, to my knowledge, that a sitting Labor Secretary has been to one of these competitions, and I think it was very beneficial for her to see -up close and in person - why these events are so necessary.

The national contest was also noteworthy in that three competing rescue teams - Enlow Fork, Bailey and Blacksville - were called away due to a mine fire in West Virginia.

All three teams are to be commended because not only did they take care of the problem, they returned to the contest to compete in the field exercises.

And they performed admirably. In fact, as you probably know, Enlow Fork took home the first-place trophy for the second straight year.

I think these three teams deserve a special round of applause for their efforts that week.

Of course, mine rescue teams abroad are worthy of considerable recognition as well. In particular, teams in southern Russia, where 46 miners became trapped in the Zapadnaya mine last month.

Twenty-five miners managed to escape immediately.

All but two miners ultimately were rescued.

Eleven spent six days underground awaiting help.

It was eerily reminiscent of what happened at Quecreek last summer. The miners became trapped by icy water that burst forth from a vast underground lake.

Rescue teams spent days blasting and drilling through solid rock from an adjacent mine to reach the miners.

Crews also dumped hundreds of tons of rock, soil and reinforced concrete pillars into the shaft to control the flood waters that had trapped the miners.

They worked around the clock.

Just like at Quecreek, the trapped miners maintained an unflagging faith in their comrades on the surface.

Said one miner after his rescue: "I thought the whole time that they would find us."

As I said earlier, mine rescuers truly are a special breed of people. And this special breed is at work tonight in a mine in China, where a coal dust explosion occurred yesterday and claimed the lives of 46 miners.

I'm continually struck by the commitment and dedication of the men and women who are willing to help others.

There are very few professions that share the bonds that exist between mine rescue team members and the teams themselves, regardless of where we live.

Those bonds, of course, deepen when you spend hours together repeatedly training, reinforcing techniques and competing as a team.

Like any professional sports team, you learn to anticipate certain moves and actions of your teammates.

You play off of each other's strengths and skills.

You develop a group chemistry and a deep sense of trust in one another.

These things are crucial to creating and maintaining a top-notch team whose primary focus is saving lives.

And because you spend so much time in training and working in simulated emergency scenarios, a miner in peril can feel assured that his or her welfare will never be compromised.

I am, of course, concerned about the dwindling number of teams around the country. Certainly mines are safer today than ever before, and mine disasters are, thankfully, few and far between.

But the necessity of having a team at the ready in case disaster does strike, is just as important now as it ever was.

Since MSHA's creation some 25 years ago, the number of fatalities has declined by 71 percent.

More miners than ever before are going home to their families at the end of each work shift in a safe and healthy condition.

But we won't stop there. We will continue to strive to meet our health and safety performance goals, and to see all of our vision fulfilled - every miner home, every day, every shift.

And the more we do collectively, the fewer opportunities you will have to put your mine rescue skills to the test.

I've been involved in mining and mine rescue for more than 30 years. I have trained, I have competed and I have been a part of rescue efforts.

I have always been one of your strongest advocates and will continue to support the work that you do.

Thank you for your dedication to mine rescue, and I appreciate your attention this evening.

God Bless America and may God Bless our nation's miners.