This story is retold with permission from Dave regarding a remote bogger fire in an underground nickel mine in Western Australia.
It was some time ago, but I still remember it like it was yesterday. I don’t have a perfect memory, but this day stuck in my mind – every detail just lingers.
The day began just like any other. It was an early start, with a bit of a chill in the air; mornings are always the coldest, but it doesn’t last long up North.
I headed down with the crew, a few hundred meters underground and not exactly the scenic route. We started our work and carried on like usual. Everything was fine.
Then everything changed. One moment we were hard at work, then the next the radio is blasting. Time to get out.
We put on our self-rescuers and prepared to evacuate. A few levels up from where we were, a Remote Bogger had caught fire in an open stop. It was blocking our escape.
So, we made our way to the nearest refuge chamber. It wasn’t far, just a few hundred meters down the track.
We entered the refuge and settled in. There were only four of us inside the 8-person chamber; who knew how long we might be here.
Having a background in Emergency Response and previously completed service training with MineARC, I wasn’t flustered. I’d been trained for this.
Some of the others guys were starting to worry; it’s understandable, you’re trapped hundreds of meters underground with what feels like an endless fire blocking your escape. I remember feeling that way.
But, I was able to keep them calm. All they needed was some reassurance of the ERP and how the refuge chamber worked. Better to be in here than not.
Three, four, five hours went by.
We passed the time by sharing a few stories, but, they’ll remain between us. We could still talk to the team outside via the radio which helped. They kept us updated on what was happening. This info helped us all deal with the whole experience.
Over the radio there was chatter and we heard the fire was out. You could feel the relief wash over everyone.
Although, I wasn’t afraid there was definitely some excitement at the news. I couldn’t wait to get home have a few cold beers mates, relax with the family (and hopefully get a bit naughty!).
I’m grateful for the strong safety culture of the company. The opportunity to be part of the Emergency Response Team and be trained on refuge chamber operations made such a difference that day. Safety, while not everyone may take it seriously, can be the difference between going home or not.
While I’m no longer in the role or in the industry, what happened on this day made an impact and I am happy to share my experience because it’s a lesson that needs to be known. When I think back, I can still smell the dirt and faint hint of smoke in the air, to say it didn’t affect me would be a lie. But I’m not ashamed to talk about it.
Being prepared and trained kept the crew and I safe. But being open and alert kept me sane.
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