Lost and Hound – Underground Mine Rescue

Dogs have always been man's best friend, but are they now miners' best friend as well? 
Animals have been used for centuries in mining, and until the fairly recent industrial revolution they were a very common sight on site. 
From pit ponies and mules through to dogs, all of them were used to pull carts in underground coal mines. 
The ponies and mules tended to work in the larger tunnels while dogs were used for haulage in the smaller, narrower shafts. 
And while the idea of using a dog to pull a cart full of ore or coal doesn't make sense now, we have to remember that small children were also historically used for working in small and narrow tunnels. 
Comparing the past's techniques to the mass of technology we use now to not only haul and move coal as well as also to find new deposits, and how miners did it centuries ago, it appears we've come a long way since then. 
In fact speaking to some in the industry, they said the majority of issues relating to dogs on the mine site is now baiting feral ones. 
But despite the machine being king on site, it doesn't mean that animals have been booted out of the industry altogether. 
One of the more traditional ways dogs have made their way back on site is through mine rescue. 
Search and rescue dogs are a common sight at disasters throughout Australia. 
From finding Stuart Diver in the Thredbo landslide to aiding police missing person searches and body recovery, dogs have demonstrated time and time again their ability to find people. 
Dogs have also demonstrated their ability to find unique substances such as accelerants and drugs, as well as being a critical part of bomb search squads and the country's quarantine protection.  
Despite this, their use in the mining industry's rescue teams is almost completely unheard of. In fact, globally you'd be hard pressed to find them them being used, if at all. 
Speaking to Queensland Mines Rescue Service CEO Wayne Hartley, he told Australian Mining he'd heard of the idea in the U.S.A. a few years ago but "there is certainly nothing like that in Queensland, and most likely not in Australia either". 
In fact, until a few months ago there was not anything like it at all. 
Earlier this year American coal miner Alpha Natural Resources unveiled a world first – Ginny, a Dutch Shepherd that has been specially trained to assist mine rescue teams in locating injured and trapped underground coal miners. 
The idea for a mines rescue dog originated back in early 2010 during an Alpha meeting where the company asked employees to recommend ideas to improve its mine site rescue. 
By December that year a plan had come together outlining how the dog would work with mining teams and what it could provide. 
The dog itself, Ginny, was officially unveiled at the U.S.A. 2012 National Search and Rescue Conference in Nevada. 
Bill Dotson, head of Applied K9 Technologies which trained Ginny, said the company used her natural hunting instincts to hunt for missing or trapped miners. 
While this part was fairly straightforward, the next part, getting her accustomed to operating in underground and open cut coal mines, dealing with heavy machinery and the general noise of mining operations, was much harder. 
Hartley told Australian Mining that training the dog for the mine site; considering how it would be effective on the mine; and the logistics of moving the dog and keeping it, would be the more difficult aspects. 
While the dog is based in West Virginia, America's coal mining heartland, mines are still spread around the state. 
To overcome this distance issue the dog has been trained to travel by air to sites, either in aircraft or by a helicopter. 
Effectiveness on the mine itself is the major issue, especially considering the dog would be operating solo in a potentially dangerous mine site. 
The dog is trained to enter alone and find, then remain, with any injured or trapped miners and bark to draw the rescue teams to the miner. 
To overcome many of the issues that the dog would face following an incident, Ginny wears a portable gas detector simulator and is trained to listen for the alarm it sounds when she enters areas with high levels of hazardous gases or low air quality. 
She is trained to react to the noise and leave the area immediately, which also acts as an early warning system for any rescue crews following her. 
Ginny also wears a protective coat that shields her from scratches and scrapes from debris and broken equipment on the ground. 
The dog is also equipped with a lamp and camera that provides visuals back to her handler and the rest of the rescue team. 
It is trained to wear safety goggles and a rescue hood, which would be placed over her head in the case of emergency evacuations. 
Currently the US Mine Safety and Health Administration (MHSA) is working with the miner on new procedures for the dog's operation on site as well as her equipment. 
According to website Mineweb, trainer Bill Dotson has also had enquiries from unnamed Australian government agencies interested in rescue dogs.  
According to Hartley, while the idea is interesting, Australia (fortunately) does not have enough significant events to keep the dog occupied or that would make it necessary during its life time, for example "our last major rescue event in Queensland was in 1994," he told Australian Mining
That is a gap of nearly 20 years, much longer than the average dog's lifespan. 
He added that "there is no reason a mine rescue dog couldn't be used, and while it's not currently being considered in Queensland that is no reason to say it shouldn't be explored".

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