SMWCRT Mine Rescue Exercise

National Trust Dolaucothi Gold Mine, Pumsaint

Saturday 28 April 2018

The mine rescue practice at Dolaucothi Gold Mine, near Pumsaint was, by necessity, a specialised and small Rescue Team rehearsal of the hypothetical evacuation of a visitor from the lower mine tunnel at this National Trust visitor attraction. This would conceivably be required in the event of a partial roof collapse that could obstruct the exit route of a visitor tour group. This kind of rescue would be conducted following the standard call-out procedure based on a 999 call to the Police from the National Trust. An SMWCRT Warden could then respond under a designated incident number from Dyfed-Powys Police. No direct arrangements for rescue cover can be made between a volunteer Cave Rescue Team and the owners/ managers of a Show cave or mine because personal accident and medical insurance would be invalidated. We would, of course, respond to a call-out to assist during a real incident and that is why a group of 20 SMWCRT rescuers, most located within an hour’s travel time from Pumsaint, attended this practice to increase familiarity with the mine tunnels, emergency escape shaft and rescue procedure.

The aim of the exercise was to rehearse the evacuation of a mock casualty (a ‘volunteered’ National Trust mine guide) by stretcher up the escape shaft from the end of Long Adit, accessed directly from the mine yard by a single entrance portal. The choice of mock casualty served to provide independent feedback on the casualty care, reassurance and handling after the exercise was completed. There was an initial introduction with safety and operational briefings which included, for instance, an instruction that all rescuers venturing underground should wear at least a harness with cowstails for security on the ladders.

Surface Control was set up in the mine yard directly in line with Long Adit. If there had been poor weather, it would have been feasible to set up within the large shed adjacent to ‘Long Adit’. The show mine was open to the public, so an additional duty of Surface Control was to field any questions from visitors about cave (mine) rescue and guide them around the rescue Landrover!

First, the rigging team entered the mine to assess the best way to rig the emergency escape shaft and to manage the stretcher haul up through the industrial ladders which lined an ore chute and winze. The fixed ladders and steel gridded platforms ascending from Long Adit are offset and demanded careful rigging for a vertical stretcher haul. A safety line was rigged from the top of the initial laddered shaft, backed up with a scaffold pole which served as a stemple across the tunnel of that mine level. All those not directly involved in rigging or surface control were guided around each of the mine tunnels accessed by visitors until called upon.

Once the rigging was completed, the casualty and stretcher party entered Long Adit and a couple of other team members set up Cave Link sets one within the mine and another just outside the upper mine portal. Once the casualty was loaded into the stretcher ready to be hauled, remaining team members entered the mine, climbed the laddered shaft and positioned themselves as a haul team above the shaft. This was the riggers’ ideal set up, realised by partial removal of several of the platform grids adjacent to sections of ladder. Without that preparatory step, alternate pendulum hauls would have been most likely, left to right up through the ladders and would have been more complicated to set up and

manage. The haul worked very well and rigging was belayed very securely to robust anchors situated at the head of the shaft. The industrial ladder hoops and basket guards demanded careful rope management and the full attention of the barrow person to ease the stretcher upwards but the set up for the haul and audible voice instructions, allowed very responsive haulage. A second, short ladder shaft was easily negotiated and the stretcher carried up a series of rock cut steps to the highest ‘Mitchell’s’ Level, which gained the exit. Finally, the stretcher was carried down a straightforward footpath, with steps, which descended the wooded hillslope back to the mine yard.

The following points were discussed during the debriefing session straight after the exercise:

• Feedback from National Trust mock casualty. Generally very impressed with the experience and felt well looked after throughout, with good forewarnings of each stage of the stretcher haul. Complained that hands were uncomfortable during the exercise. She also felt that her head was rather loosely supported.

• Rigging. Several viable options were available to rig the laddered shafts. The breakthrough in chosen method followed realisation that the footplates of several of the ladder sections could be removed and tied back out of the line of the haul and safety ropes. It still took 1.5 to 2 hours to rig. An extra rigger would have been desirable because one of the rigging party, through necessity, devoted more time to communications. A few unwelcome discoveries were made within tackle sacks: Maillon Rapides were found with gates wound back and open; some ropes had no safety knots tied at the end and slings were often located under ropes and rigging kit in tackle sacks, rather than readily accessible on top.

• Stretcher hauling. Threaded stemple inserts fitted the ends of the scaffold bar, which had been previously cut to a suitable length for use in the mine tunnels. This worked well but requires the addition of a back washer, to avoid flaring and damage to the scaffold ends. The scaffold was useful in several sections where only timber frames were present above laddered shafts in the mine and where a belay was required beyond pitch heads to protect haul teams. It was agreed amongst the Wardens, that the scaffold was of great value for any future Dolaucothi incident and that it should be clearly labelled as such! There was the bare minimum number of haulers available for the stretcher lift but it was very well co-ordinated. The haul itself went smoothly and was steady and controlled. The last section to the exit portal involved negotiation of very narrow, rock cut steps, with a sharp corner restricted in width by wooden rails. This was successfully negotiated with short pulls by haulers and use of a human conveyor for the turns and stretcher bearers staggered around the stretcher, elsewhere. This was protected with belays on the scaffold positioned behind a restricted archway, part way up and tied in to the metal frame of the entrance gate for the final section.

• Communications. UHF radio did not work despite the line of sight from the Landrover into Long Adit. Instead, good use was made of the installed communication system, with boxes situated at strategic points throughout the underground workings. UHF worked well for co-ordination of the rigging and haul up and down the main escape shaft. Cave Link antennae at surface required fine adjustment but, once adjusted, it was good to learn that Cave Link worked although another underground unit would have been useful to maintain continuous communications.

• Surface Control. One person to manage Surface Control was insufficient. The simultaneous tasks of recording, using the UHF radio in the vehicle, using the Site’s installed communication system, setting up Cave Link by Long Adit and potentially answering Tourist questions about the CR vehicle were too much even on a practice session. Like real scenarios, it will require a minimum of 3 people to achieve an acceptable level of Control. Since most attendees had taken up the offer of a tour there were insufficient personnel left to effect this aspect of the practice.

Peter Dennis, Training Officer, SMWCRT

26 July 2018