ERT has taken Erica A. Gallegos Arias all over the world; she shares her progression, from trainee to international judge of mine rescue events.
Erica A. Gallegos Arias brings the passion of Peru into her role as leader of a mines rescue team, consultant, and international emergency response competition judge. Like most emergency responders, the people she works with have become like a global family; bonded together through shared experiences and mutual admiration. However, Erica’s choice to pursue emergency response in mines was met with institutionalised challenges.
Where is All Began
I started as a Paramedic in 1996; drawn to the role by what it represented, and what I could do. It was here I also learnt to be a Firefighter.
When I became aware of Emergency Response Teams (ERT) in underground mines, the desire to join was instantaneous. I was well versed in emergency response and dealt with a number of high-stress situations, so becoming involved seemed like a natural progression. I decided to set myself a new goal and was going to do whatever it took to achieve it.
What it Takes to be in an ERT
The path was not without adversity. When I started in underground environments, resistance to women in mining was, and unfortunately, at times still is, strong. Considering the role and importance of safety, I always found this disappointing. However, I have learnt you need to balance many predispositions and cultural values to push through and develop mutual respect.
My first role was in Chile. Being new to the environment, I knew that I would need to put in extra effort to learn new skills, to adapt to working underground, and deal with new risks. Alongside my training, I also had to work to break down gender barriers. Every step forward, I was met with resistance. Although I developed the skills, it took over a year before I was acknowledged for my part in the team.
The reservation of my peers never deterred me; I found a new love for underground mining and its emergency response. My responsibilities grew as the skills and knowledge I learnt expanded. This progression opened new opportunities for me across different parts of the globe.
Currently, I lead a team in DR Congo – Africa. We are strong; continually training in a range of scenarios to stay on top of our game, while combining moments of entertainment to keep morale high and build our bond.
The unity of the team took a lot of effort. Even on the other side of the world, I was once again met with the challenges of gender. Starting as the only female on the team and in a leading role, sparked opposition. Initially, the act of giving out instructions and being respected as a leader was not always straightforward. Though difficult and timely, the rocky beginnings never last. Being a team is too critical.
As an ERT Judge
Over the years, recognition of my abilities grew and began judging ERT competitions. My favourite aspect of judging these competitions is meeting the teams from different parts of the world. They always bring with them knowledge and stories you can learn from. The friendships you weave through mutual admiration and shared experience transcend geographical and gender barriers.
I have been fortunate to judge several Mines Rescue Competitions all over the world; from international events in Russia and Canada to national event throughout my home country of Peru. Next, I will sit alongside colleagues from all over the world to once again judge the International Mines Rescue Competition, held in the USA.
There is a unique environment at these events; the shared understanding of what each other goes through brings an inimitable joy.
What is One Thing You Takeaway
There is a balance to ERTs that many people underestimate. You must be strong in body and mind, but gentle in manner and actions. In an emergency, you’re dealing with people who are often injured and afraid – and not only miners – your role is to rescue, reassure, and respond.
Knowledge and skills are achieved through practice, discipline and dedication. However, the most critical aspect is to value others as human beings.
Training and studying can make you the most knowledgeable. Tolerance and respect will make you elite. Whether it’s by showing leadership, building strong teamwork in and out of training or treating a casualty, respectful conduct goes a long way. The culture you have as a team comes to light in an emergency.
From the beginning, my goals were clear and firm. I stayed true to my purpose and became a vital element of the underground mines rescue team. I cannot say that it was not difficult, but it was an example of perseverance. I hope my experience will encourage others. Managing to break barriers, led me to discover a new love for the underground world, and another passion for ERTs – from here, nothing can stop me.