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By J. BLUNT, C.Eng. F.I.Min.E.
General Manager of Rescue Stations, NCB
Reprinted from 'Colliery Guardian Annual Review', August 1975

In the early days of the NCB it became apparent that a uniform approach was required for dealing with emergencies; this need being highlighted by the several serious colliery disasters which occurred within a year or two of nationalisation. Many colliery companies already possessed well developed emergency schemes, whilst others went no further than the implementation of the Fire and Rescue Sections of the Coal Mines Act 1911. All schemes were flavoured by local practices and traditions, so that there were wide variations in the methods and organisation prescribed.

The task of analysing schemes and preparing a unified organisational plan was given to the Rescue Advisory Committee, which was set up under the chairmanship of the Deputy Chief Inspector of Mines primarily to advise on the development of breathing apparatus and rescue techniques. Their report was issued in 1953 and was acted upon by the Board without delay. In the light of further experience, the report was revised in 1965 in which form it was widely distributed within the industry and a further revision of the organisation was carried out at all levels. All Areas and collieries now have comprehensive schemes in operation, which have been built up after considerable experience of working the schemes in emergency conditions. Arrangements are made for the Safety Branch to up-date the colliery schemes at regular intervals and, together with district rescue stations managers, to check that the plan for emergency is sound and comprehensive and based on the principles outlined in "Colliery Emergency Organisation 1965".

The scheme lays down the actions required of personnel underground when an emergency occurs and stresses the importance of the Incident Management Organisation at the surtace of the mine. The control room is the focus of all incident activities and the official in charge, or the controller, has the advice of an Incident Committee to guide him. This committee includes representatives of the Board, the Inspectorate and the unions, supplemented by appropriate specialists, e.g. mines rescue, scientific, ventilation. Full details of the scheme and all plans and instructions required are kept in an emergency cabinet at the colliery office so that the scheme can be fully implemented without delay. The Mines Rescue Service is strongly linked with the colliery and area schemes, which include the emergency arrangements for calling 'the services of the local rescue station and rescue officials.



Berry Hill Mines Rescue Brigade

Thanks to John Lumsdon for the photograph

Berry Hill

The Mines Rescue Service has been built up from its small beginnings in the early years of the century to a fully integrated national service. For the first 20 years or so, after the mines were nationalised, the rescue stations were administered on behalf of the Board by local committees consisting of mining engineers from local areas and pits. The stations were under the direct control of rescue superintendents. In some coalfields or "divisions", there was also a manager or chief officer in charge of several rescue stations, but in other divisions there was no such control and in an emergency the station, which served the particular colliery concerned, carried out the rescue responsibilities without assistance from other stations, In lengthy incidents, this often resulted in the near exhaustion of the personnel of the rescue station concerned.

Following the re-organisation of the NCB's structure in 1967, the Rescue Service became a Headquarters controlled service and is now one of the branches of the Mining Department under its director-general. The service operates under a general manager and the coalfields are divided into six districts each with a district rescue stations manager responsible for a number of

rescue stations. There are now 25 rescue stations to cover all the 246 collieries in the various coalfields, 13 of them being stations with permanent corps brigadesmen on constant duty, supplemented by part-time trained men from the collieries, and the remaining 12 stations being manned by officers with a small nucleus of men relying on part-time trained men from the collieries. In an emergency, at least two rescue stations are involved, the first call station and the second call station. Officers and men from other stations and parttime men from mines in other Coal Board areas are brought in, if necessary, irrespective of geographical boundaries.

The full complement of the Rescue Service is 2,500 part-time trained rescue men, 170 full-time permanent brigadesmen, 80 superintendents and other officers, together with the six district managers and a general manager.

In the last few years, the fleet of 80 rescue vehicles has been modernised and the vehicles have been designed to suit the varying conditions and circumstances under which they have to operate. Most of the vehicles are in radio communication with the rescue stations, which is not only useful when the vehicles are on the road, but also provides an important additional link with the rescue stations during an emergency when the telephone system is overloaded. The radio system has been renewed recently and is now of the most modern type.

Part-time men are called out in an emergency mainly by telephone, but this only operates if the men concerned are at home. Recent experiments have been carried out with "bleep" systems whereby a rescue worker can be contacted and given a message on a pocket radio receiver. The men attached to one rescue station are already equipped with these instruments and experiments at others are continuing with a view to extending the system.

Pit Terminology - Glossary


History of Mines Rescue



Origins of Coal