Toni Donovan, a junior in mining engineering from Homewood, Ill., has to watch her step, just in case she starts a fire, kills a trapped miner or touches electricity.
“All are simulated, of course,” she says of the problems faced by the UMR mine rescue team in mine rescue competitions. “In the competitions, teams are given two hours to evaluate and solve a mine disaster problem. Most problems are extremely difficult and require multiple steps.”
Donovan says that all underground mine operations are required to have a mine rescue team. “Each team consists of six members,” she says. “If there’s a mine disaster, these men and women risk their lives to rescue others and reestablish the mine…The mine rescue competitions are not the main priority of the teams, but a fun and useful way to keep in practice.”
UMR has the only student team that competes. “We’re the only non-professional team in these competitions,” Donovan says. “If there’s ever a real mine disaster, the teams closest to the site are called to help out. In large accident, teams from all over the United States are called in.”
Donovan has acted as the UMR team’s “map-woman” for the past two years. “The map-person goes underground with the team and makes a map of everything that is down there,” she says. “The map is a valuable asset to the mine rescue operation, because in real life, a rescue operation can take days. Since one team can only be underground for two hours at a time, they must be able to pass on their progress to the following team.”
Donovan’s involvement at UMR is one thing that has progressed since she began college. “My first semester in college, I was miserable,” she says. “When people from my department started pulling me into activities, I realized that all I was missing was a sense of family that only being involved can give you.”
In addition to the mine rescue team, Donovan is president of UMR’s student chapter of Women in Mining, and captain of the ladies’ mucking team at UMR. Mucking teams use old-fashioned mining methods and hand-held tools to compete in timed events, including gold panning, surveying, hand-mucking and jackleg drilling.“The UMR ladies’ mucking team is now on a two-year international champions winning streak, and next year we are competing in Australia,” Donovan says. “I am proud to be captain of such a wonderful team of strong women, and I look forward to winning again this year.”
Donovan also hopes to see the mine rescue team win competitions. “In the past year, UMR placed fourth in our competition, and seventh place at the regional level,” she says. “Through these competitions, not only am I learning how to save lives, but I am learning a lot about mining and underground mines. When you get into a simulated problem, you sometimes forget that it isn’t real, and while working it out, you gain a lot of respect for your teammates. I believe that if we continue to practice harder, we will continue to place at mine rescue competitions, and maybe even win.”