The West Virginia University Department of Mining Extension recently received the Pittsburgh Coal Mining Institute of Americas (PCMIA) Stephen McCann Award for Excellence in Education.

In announcing the award, PCMIA noted WVU provides an important and unique service to coal operators through its extensive training programs for new and experienced miners. The institute applauded the program for facilitating on-site training in remote locations.

WVU s Mining Extension Department has offered training for the coal industry since 1913 and trains more than 5,000 new and experienced miners each year, said James Dean , department chair. Training takes place throughout the region as well as at the departments Dolls Run headquarters.

Our mission has always been to provide coal miners with the training they need to get a job and to work safely,Dean said.Specific training needs have changed over time as industry needs have evolved.

The department developed the newest tool in 2008, outfitting a mobile trailer for training in the use of self-contained self-rescuers (SCSRs), devices that coal miners carry to assist them in breathing in a fire or smoke emergency. The trailer is the only one of its kind in the state, and Mining Extension staff members take it to mines throughout the region, training more than 2,200 miners in 2008.

Prior to the Sago disaster in 2006when 13 miners were trapped in a mine in Upshur County and only one survived SCSR training occurred mainly in classrooms. Regulations adopted after Sago and other accidents now require that training take place in an environment closer to an actual mine emergency with smoke and heat.

The departments trailer is outfitted with compartments constructed to simulate mine entries, theatrical smoke to simulate a smoke-filled environment, a heater and a lifeline similar to the ones that miners use.

Students in WVU s safety management masters degree program got to experience the training first hand in December, when the Mining Extension Department brought the trailer to WVU s Evansdale campus.

Once the door to the trailer was shut, it was so dark that you couldnt see the hand in front of your face,said one of the students who went through the training.We had to figure out how to get the SCSRs on, navigate our way through the smoke and even crawl through a man-door that was only 16 inches off the floor.

Everyone who works in a mine or in any similar setting should experience this kind of training,Dean said.It prepares you for an emergency in a way that no classroom training can.

In addition to SCSR training, the Mining Extension Department offers classes for new and experienced miners. Among them is a new continuing education class for mine foremen. The department is also working to develop a mine rescue and fire brigade facility, set to open in July 2009. The facility will provide high-quality training for the entire north-central region, including West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Ohio.

PCMIA gives the McCann Award each year to an individual or organization that has made exemplary contributions to mineral education in an academic or industrial environment. This year marks the first time a group, rather than an individual, received the award. Past winners include WVU mining engineering faculty members Syd S. Peng, Christopher J. Bise, A. Wahab Khair and Keith A. Heasley.

For more information, visit the WVU Mining Extension Web site at or call 304-293-4211.