America’s Finest, America’s Bravest. When we read these words, most of us think immediately of New York’s Fire and Police departments. And while, there is no denying that these departments include some of the finest and bravest men and women in the nation, I have been recently introduced (via CNN) to another group of people whom I think could also qualify.
America’s coal miners go largely unnoticed, until they are buried under thousands of feet of Earth. When we hear about miners trapped, like the recent group in Huntington, Utah, our collective heart stops for a minute. How scary! (we think) Can they get out? Will they get out?
When hearing about a mining crisis many of us focus simply upon the incident. What we don’t always stop and think about is the nearly 365 days of the year that these miners (and others like them) go down into the Earth to work. No they are not arresting bad guys or putting out fires, but they are doing something that most of us would never even consider. They are going far, far, underneath the land, and often more than 4 miles away from any sort of exit, to do the noisy, dirty, back-breaking work of extracting coal for our energy uses.
Most disturbing about this work is that while miners have known about the risks of mining for over a century, and have been accepting them, the job doesn’t seem to be getting significantly safer. Back around the turn of the century, professions like policeman, firefighter and factory worker were dangerous. Now, due to aggressive government regulation, they are all markedly less so. Mining, by many accounts, has not followed suit. Greedy mine operators and legislation that apparently drags its way though Congress seemed to have conspired to keep many miners working in undesirable and unsafe conditions. According to the Salt Lake Tribune, mining remains one of the most dangerous professions in the country. Furthermore, according to a recent article in the San Francisco Chronicle: “The Mine Safety and Health Administration issued 116 “significant and substantial” citations against the Crandall Canyon mine (site of the most recent collapse) over the last three years.” Can you imagine going to a place of work, (your cubicle, your pre-school classroom, your retail store,) where a government organization had issued 116 negative citations? I’ll bet you can’t and I can’t either. Yet the miners go.
Roofs of these ‘workplaces’ have literally come down upon people. Others have seen whole ‘night shifts’ wiped out by fire. Can you fathom, I mean can you REALLY imagine, someone calling you at home and telling you that all of your co-workers on a particular shift have perished in a fire? How about hearing that some of your colleagues are trapped 1800 feet underground and that there is little hope of finding them or getting them out? And what kind of person is it, who when faced with the news that the only way to get to their friends and colleagues, is to put their own lives in danger, goes ahead and does it?
Despite the risks that they take every day, or maybe because of them, miners seem to have what is truly a ‘first responder’ mentality. Most of realize that while everyone is running away from an incident, firefighters, EMTs and policemen and women will likely be running towards it. We greatly appreciate our first responders for this and we laud them consistently for their efforts. But, who among us has ever stopped to think about miners sacrificing themselves in much the same way? Recently, unfortunately and heartbreakingly, we all learned that they do. The recent deaths of three mine rescue workers who were digging into an already partially collapsed mine, trying desperately to reach some trapped colleagues, showed the nation that the same spirit, the same commitment and the same ‘brotherhood’ exists among miners.
America’s finest, America’s bravest. These are monikers that the NYPD and FDNY have definitely earned and deserved. All I’m saying is that, given what we have a nation have recently seen, we may want to make a new addition to the group.
**If you would like to donate to the families of the trapped miners (now believed deceased) at the Crandall Canyon Mine, please visit local news affiliate, ABC4.com for more information.