The University of British Columbia all-female mine rescue team won first place at the 2019 Intercollegiate Mine Emergency Response Development (MERD) exercise at the Colorado School of Mines. - Facebook photo/Jill Newell

Kwalikum grad leads all-female mine rescue team to victory in U.S.

First time an all-female team has won the two-day competition

A Kwalikum Secondary School grad led the first Canadian all-women’s student mine rescue team to victory at the 2019 Intercollegiate Mine Emergency Response Development (MERD) exercise at the Colorado School of Mines. This marks the first time an all-female team has been named the overall winners of the two-day competition.

Jill Newell, who graduated from KSS in 2007, is a mine engineering student at the University of British Columbia and the president of the school’s Mine Rescue Team. She said her wish came true when she could finally get enough women together to form an all-female team to compete in Colorado.

“I’ve been trying to get an all-female team together,” Newell said. “It’s hard because mining doesn’t really bring in a lot of women… we might get like four or five girls a year.”

During the competition, teams from around the United States, Canada and Germany competed in three different challenges hosted over two days. These included a triage first aid, technician and field challenge. Teams were cycled through and marked on their ability to work as a team in stressful and challenging situations.

One part of the competition sends teams underground wearing BG4 breathing apparatuses that Newell said weigh about 40 to 50 pounds. Teams were “smoked out” and had to navigate through the Edgar Mine performing various tasks including building seals, erecting timber posts, extinguishing fires, setting up a pump and sump, and exploring all areas that were designated to them.

“It was exhausting,” Newell said. “Our BG4 apparatuses are on our backs, plus we have a stretcher that’s full of all of our tools… you’re pushing it through, in the smaller mines you get into sections where its maybe three metres by three metres so you’re kind of crouching and it’s hot with all the smoke.”

To prepare for the competition, Newell said her and the team spent a week in Kamloops at the New Afton Mine.

“They have an award-winning mine rescue team… they’re so good at what they do,” Newall said. “We got two of their team members to actually coach us for an entire week. It was a lot of work.”

Newell, who has one more year of school, said being a part of the mine rescue team helps to balance out her education.

“All of us mine engineers, we’re going to be the ones who come to design the mines, to run the mines and it’s good to know that you have that safety background and you understand the risks that could happen,” she said.

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