Mine rescue competition stimulates Harlan County economy

Hundreds of coal miners from across the country have descended on Harlan County for an annual mining safety and rescue competition.

The coal industry has taken some recent hits in the pocketbook, but these miners are having the opposite effect on the city of Cumberland

"They stay in our hotels, they eat in our restaurants, they purchase our gas," said Cumberland Tourism Director Tracy Bailey. "And all those things go into the county as a whole."

Bailey said last year's competition stimulated the local economy to the tune of at least $60,000.

Even though the competition does create a significant financial windfall for Cumberland and Harlan County, its main purpose is to prepare teams for an actual underground mine disaster - an experience that some of the miners here are familiar with.

By law, mine rescuers must participate in two of these competitions per year.

"They have actual simulations of caved areas and loose roof and just actually what you have to do underground in case you have to go do something," said Randy Watts, a mine safety team member for 20 years.

Most mine rescuers are volunteers.

"And that's the amazing thing," said Kentucky Coal Academy Mine Safety Director Danny Knott. "These guys donate their time and are willing to serve. It's kind of like a volunteer firefighter in a small town. They're just willing to do it."

Jonathan Adams, a mine safety team member, said, "I don't know exactly if that's a special calling or not but I feel like it's something I ought to do. I believe that mine rescue gets in your blood and you love it once you start doing it."

The Cumberland Tourism Commission loves it, too.

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