It's hard for miners and their families to forget what happened at Darby mine two years ago. However, now they have a reason to breathe a little easier thanks to recently installed refuge chambers.
“It's just a matter of getting them in, all isolated from poisonous gases in a quicker amount of time,” says Buddy Howard, Mine Safety Manager at Darby Mine.
Darby, Huff Creek and Cloverfork Mines in Harlan County recently installed new refuge chambers, an 18 foot long steel box, that pops out an inflated tent with the pull of a lever, providing fresh air and a safe haven for up to 30 men.
“It makes me feel a lot better. It's just another safety tool in the event of an emergency that they can use and enhance their chances of survival until rescue occurs,” says Howard.
Once the tent is deployed the miners can crawl inside and there is enough supplies inside the chamber to last them up to four days.
While the equipment is a welcomed sign to workers, some say it could have come sooner.
“Had there been a refuge chamber in the Darby mine, in all likelihood, those three miners, Roy Middleton, Bill Petra and Paris Thomas would have survived and Paul Ledford would not have been so severely injured,” says Tony Oppegard, a mine safety advocate and attorney for the Darby Mine families.
“I think when I started in mining I think there was over one hundred fatalities per year. At one point I think we got down in the twenties and I think Kentucky last year had no underground fatalities,” says Howard.
He says he hopes the chambers can help keep it that way.
U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration officials are still working on making these chambers a requirement.