Bellevue Mine Explosion, Crowsnest Pass, Alberta, December 9, 1910admin / January 3, 2019
Considering the contemporary situation in the coal mining industry, it is possible to state that not all processes are safe and not all mines are rescue for employees.
Even the existence of the innovative technologies and gas detection techniques sill leave the chances for explosions and other incidents. What can be said about the beginning of the 20th century? Bellevue mine explosion took place in Crowsnest Pass, Alberta on December 9, 1910.
This disaster carried away 31 lives, but the tragedy could influence more people as the normal worker compliment in the mine was 200 individuals. Having considered the situation in the mine and the conditions people worked at, it is possible to conclude that the disaster was manmade as no natural phenomena influenced the situation.
The main idea of this paper is to consider the details of the explosion, check the main causes and influential factors and conclude whether it was possible to prevent the disaster and by means of which steps it could have been made.
There have been a lot of different factors which pointed to the possibility of the event. Some of those were rather obvious, but no one paid attention to them. Workers and UMWA representatives pointed to the violation of the mine ventilation techniques many times.
According to the norm, the main fan was aimed at producing 100,000 cubic feet of fresh air per minute while in reality it produced about 65,000 cubic feet of fresh air per minute. Inappropriate functioning of the fan resulted in its break in October 1910 for two hours, but the workers had to stay at their workplaces and continue working.
The violation of the workers’ rights was one of the main signs that the mine owners did not care about the destiny of their employees, the increase in the production of coal was their main goal. The complaints of the union and demands to repair the ventilation were in vain. During the Thanksgiving Day the explosion occurred in the mine due to the impropriate ventilation and the inability of the gas flow out the mine.
After cleaning the mass, the mine continued working without any changes in the ventilation system (Price, 2007). An impropriate air supply and the absence of the desire from the mine owners to repair it are considered to be the reasons for the explosion in the mine. Careless attitude to the working people and to the simplest safety regulations also added to the problem.
There was one more cause which may be related to the reasons for the explosion. According to the testimonies of John Oliphant, a former fireboss in the mine who resigned on 15th of September 1910, the mine plans did not corresponded to the real situation.
Thus, “the company’s mine plans were incorrectly drawn because at the place of large part of the coal seam had not been extracted, even though the plan showed that it had” (Bercuson, 1978, p. 223). The coal mine managers did not keep any statistics which could show how much coal was taken from the area. As a result, much amount of gas escaped from the taken coal.
Thus, it was impossible to dwell upon safety at the workplace. Being the second reason for the explosion, this fact remained the central for the investigation of the case. The presence of the gas in the mine was refused by firebosses Powell and Anderson who testified two days before about the gas free mine condition (Bercuson, 1978).
Considering the events which took place on the 10th of December 1910 and several days before, it may be concluded that no emergency planning had been in place before the disaster. But, isn’t it the main reasons for the occurrence of the disaster? Many factors pointed to the existence of the problem, but the mine owners did not want to do anything. If some specific actions in the relation to the ventilation and the reduction of the gas had been provided, the explosion could have been avoided.
Looking at the situation from different angles and considering the testimonies of different people, it is possible to conclude that the disaster could have been prevented. First of all, the reasons of the disaster point to negligent attitude to work and human life as whole. The mine owners have been told for many times about the problems which existed. Simple rules of safety at the workplace were violated.
The repair of the ventilation, the perfect documentation and the appropriate reaction to the information about the smell of gas declared by some workers could eliminate the reasons for the disaster and prevent it. Furthermore, no one investigated the case of the explosion in October carefully. The absence of the victims influenced this as well.
Modern technologies help determine the level of gas in the mine and provide other supportive techniques for preventing explosions and detecting gas, but the cases are still numerous. Considering the even in 1910, there were no innovative techniques and other issues, but, still the catastrophe could have been prevented.
If the mine owners had managed to plan and carefully regulate the mining process, repair the ventilation and refer to the miners’ claims about the smell of gas, it could have prevented the disaster, as neither natural catastrophe nor human error had occurred. Safe working conditions could also contribute to the elimination of the causes of the event (Penuel, Statler, & Golson, 2011, p. 421).
There were many different risks both to the people and the emergency personnel during and after the crisis. According to the information about the disaster, at about 8:00 a great explosion took place and “the blast forced the air out of the tunnels and it was replaced by the often fatal ‘after damp’” (Bellevue Explosion, n.d.).
In other words, those who managed to be far from the centre of the explosion were not influenced by it, but, they appeared in the trap, when no fresh air could reach them (Laxton, 1846, p. 243).
No one who was in the mine and tunnels had an opportunity to release from alive. The emergency personnel also run risks to die as there was no specific equipment which could help miners who still were alive. It should also be mentioned that the mine did not have mine rescue teams as well.
A researcher in the coal-mining industry Fred Alderson died during the rescue operations when gave his breathing apparatus to a man who managed to climbed to the surface (Bellevue Explosion, n.d.). Thus, other relief crews were in danger when they worked on the mine trying to safe as many people from the trap as possible.
This tragedy could not remain without attention. It influenced not only the Bellevue mine, but all the mines in Alberta region. The Bellevue mine remained closed for a year after the explosion. The ventilation was repaired along with the creation of the specific technique which allowed methane to leak to the surface via the drilled rock tunnels in the places of its accumulation.
Moreover, the rescue stations appeared in the whole district that pointed to the fact that mine owners realised the necessity of creating safe working conditions and the emergency help in incidents.
Crowsnest Pass Rescue Station #1 operated in the district. Being located in Blairmore, it could reach any region in the Pass. The government paid attention to the mining problems and created the mine rescue programs along with the mining companies (Bellevue Explosion, n.d.). Thus, it may be concluded that the tragedy which carried away the lives of 31 people made people improve the working conditions, pay more attention to the security, planning and control.
These benefits are not the only which occurred in the mining industry. The tragedy showed that mining is one of the most dangerous professions. The experience gained while this event was used for the identification of the hazards in the industry and creating the possibilities improving the working conditions.
Being a public safety communications officer (911 operator), my role would be important. After receiving a call from the place of the disaster, I had to inform the rescue crew about it and direct those to the place of emergency.
Then, I would consider the scope of work and analyse whether the send team was able to cope with the problem, I would send supportive teams, if necessary. The direction of the emergency, police and other departments responsible for the work with such disasters to the place would also be my responsibility.
A public safety communications officer could do nothing specific to minimize the situation as there were nether appropriate conditions for rescue work, nor the necessary equipment. One of his/her duties could be the structuring of the work and trying to make the process as safe as possible.
Thus, it may be concluded that there were many factors which provoked the occurrence of the disaster. At the same time, the communication systems could improve the reaction to the incident and direct the rescue crews.
The existence of the rescue stations in the region could make the process of miners rescue faster and more efficient as the presence of the stations could mean the existence of the necessary equipment.
The Bellevue mine explosion in 1910 showed the region that it was impossible to violate the safety on the mine without specific consequences. Moreover, the plans of the works and the control over the working process improved. At the same time, the court procedure which took place after the event showed that the government was not ready to control the mining industry and reduce the danger.
The court decision stated that the mine owners were responsible for the case butt the government did nothing to punish them and the mine was opened in a year. However, the lessons learned by mans of the disaster made the authorities to think about human security and safety while working process.
Bellevue Explosion—December 9, 1910. (n.d.) When Coal Was King. Retrieved from http://www.coalking.ca/challenges/major_bellevue.html
Bercuson, D. (1978). Tragedy at Bellevue: anatomy of a mine disaster. Labour (Committee on Canadian Labour History), 221-231.
Laxton, W. (1846). The Civil engineer and architect’s journal. New York: Fine arts library.
Penuel, K. B., Statler, M., & Golson, J. G. (2011). Encyclopedia of Disaster Relief. New York: SAGE.
Price, B. (2007).1910 Bellevue Mine Explosion. Bellevue Underground Mine Tour. Retrieved from http://www.bellevueundergroundmine.org/1910explosion.htm