I had been face working for a few months when I became interested in becoming a member of the Middleton Mines Rescue Team. I arranged to see The Training Officer for further details. He explained that I would have to go to the mines rescue centre at Wakefield for training. It would involve a day a week for six weeks. This would be a test of my suitability to become a member of the Middleton team. I expressed my enthusiasm and he duly promised to get in touch with me when he had arranged training.
The following week I had to report to the Mines Rescue Centre at Wakefield for a week’s course of instruction. At the centre we had lectures on all the aspects of mines rescue; history, current regulations, safety, gases, breathing apparatus, first aid, the transport of injured or dead miners from the workings and temporary roof supports, were just a few of the main subjects discussed. A typical day at the station would be lectures in the morning, with practical training with artificial breathing systems in the afternoon.
There are numerous types of breathing systems but the one we were specially trained for was the ‘Proto’ Apparatus.
This system consists of a small compressed oxygen cylinder that is attached to a large ‘breathing bag.’ The bag is carried and strapped across the front of the chest. Inside the bag are Protosorb crystals that absorb carbon dioxide expelled when we exhale. A mouthpiece is connected to the bag and one tries to breathe through it at normal rate, a nose clip is also worn. Valves from the oxygen cylinder control the amount that is released to the wearer. Expired air passes through the bag and is cleaned by the crystals, the air being re-used. The main problem with this apparatus is that the crystals soon become CO2 saturated. The Proto system was designed for a period of approximately two hours use.
During practical uses of the breathing apparatus, we would enter specially prepared rooms that simulated underground conditions i.e. darkness, height restrictions, dust, heat, etc. We would be required to do manual work shovelling sand from one place to another for an hour. This work gave the wearer of the apparatus the opportunity to experience the problems one may have in actual mines rescue.
Because we had a nose clip on and mouthpiece in, our only means of communication was a small hand operated horn; signalling one hoot for stop, two to carry on etc. We also had a system of hand signs. Working whilst wearing breathing systems is no joke.
We studied the different types of gases before and after an explosion, Blackdamp, Whitedamp, Firedamp, Stythe & Afterdamp, all had their own peculiar properties, and all had to be detected and respected.
We also learned that the quickest way to detect for gas was to expose a small bird to the suspect atmosphere. These small birds, usually canaries, have such a fast blood circulation that an alien gas is quickly detected. Their metabolism takes up the gas fast and they fall off their perches. Providing one gets them back into good air again they suffer no ill consequences. The regulations of that time decreed that all mines that employed one hundred men or more, must keep at least two small birds on the premises; this last fact maybe why many miners are avid canary breeders.
I managed to pass the course of instruction and I became a member of The Middleton Broom Colliery Mines Rescue team. I was a very proud man. Twice a month we would have a day of lectures and practical training as a team. We could be called out at anytime to attend serious incidents at our own or other mines.
Slowly but surely I was becoming an experienced miner.