Their training is rigorous, their dedication unquestioned and they hope they are never needed. They are the mine rescue teams of Missouri.

The world watched as 33 Chilean miners emerged one-by-one from the collapsed mine which held them for 69 days. Manager Les Thomas of the State Labor Department Mine and Cave Safety Program watched with a bit more interest.

“Everybody, I think, agrees mining can be dangerous and the potential for disasters are there,” Thomas says. “And just what we saw in Chile, with the miners over there, there’s the potential for a roof, ground collapses here.”

Mine rescue teams train daily to respond. They compete annually against teams from throughout the nation in the rescue team contest held at Missouri University of Science and Technology in Rolla. Missouri S&T has sponsored the contest for 28 straight years. This year, live volunteers participated; presenting the rescue teams a more realistic challenge. Doe Run’s Maroon Team won for the 5th consecutive year.

The State Department of Labor traveled to Rolla this year and videotaped the competition. Click on this link to watch its report.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i6q9VPdGCqw

Thomas says miners count on those teams taking their training seriously.

“They do this hoping that they never actually have to perform,” according to Thomas. “But they are highly skilled and very prepared. If there ever was a disaster, they know exactly what to do. And the miners, I think most Missouri miners, take a lot of comfort in that knowing that no matter what somebody will come and get them.”

Though the Chile mine disaster fed the popular notion that the biggest danger facing miners is a mine collapse, Thomas says that isn’t the biggest danger facing miners. Thomas says the biggest concerns in the industry are loose ground and moving heavy equipment in tight spaces.

On average, two Missouri miners die each year, over 100 suffer injuries on the job.

AUDIO: Brent Martin reports [:60 MP3]