Mine Health and Safety Academy

Raleigh Register
August 16, 1976

MESA Students Adjust To Schoolwork, Environment

Register Reporter

They're thousands of miles away from home and beginning a new career.

Faces and accents that surround them are as unfamiliar as the narrow, winding roads, and for the first time in years their days are dominated by classes and homework.

"I got lost five times today," chuckled one student to another as they threaded their way through the maze of posh halls.

The sprawling new National Mine Health and Safety Academy outside Beckley won't be formally dedicated until Tuesday, but it has already opened its doors to the nation's mine inspectors.

Forty men who'll work for the Mining Enforcement and Safety Administration's Metal and Nonmetal Division are there for a 16-week course, whole 175 coal mine inspectors are undergoing an annual two-week retraining in electricity.

With the last of the construction workers still not out of the way of a steady trickle of tourists, the Academy is bustling.

Students in the Metal and Nonmetal Division - which excludes coal - come from all over the United States.

Dick Judd, 32, of Seattle, Wash., will work for MESA's western district, inspecting sand and gravel operations and small rock quarries in an area which includes part of Washington and all of Alaska.

He spent eight years in open pit copper mining in Tucson, Ariz., and decided to become an inspector "because as far as being your own boss, this is really it. You're a free agent - you've got your own area to take care of."

Like most of his classmates, Judd has a wife and children and a home and is going through the adjustment from family life to dorm life.

"But the job on the whole will involve a lot of travel," he noted.

"Inspectors spend as much as three or four nights a week on the road, and this is a good way for my family to get used to it. We sort of tried to prepare ourselves mentally for this job."

Judd says he's only left the Academy twice since he arrived two weeks ago. But area roads left a lasting impression.

"When did they build the roads in Beckley?" he asked in a tone of disbelief.

"He's from the wide open spaces out west," chimed in fellow trainee Lloyd Caldwell, "where there's only one curve in the whole state."

Inspector candidates must have five years' mining experience, and Caldwell, 39, worked as a project superintendent at deep mine construction sites in the western coalfields.

He's going into inspecting "for the same reason a pro ball player starts selling insurance at 29 - I just couldn't keep up with the boys any more," he grinned.

Working out of MESA's Topeka, Kan., field office, he could inspect underground salt, gypsum or limestone mines.

Inspectors' training at this point for the two men includes classes in basic writing skills, notice and order writing, accident prevention and investigation, ground control (supporting roof, called "back," and sides, known as "ribs") and even a course in defensive driving.

The curriculum will be enlarged in later portions of the course. Their 16 weeks have been broken up into four-week segments, with six-week intervals back home getting on-the-job training with MESA inspectors.

Even with classes from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily and a couple of hours of homework, students end up with plenty of free time.

A few are taking a course in cardio-pulmonary resuscitation in the evenings.

In the late afternoon the swimming pool stays busy - Caldwell participates in a regular "Rebels vs. Yankees" volleyball game in the pool - and television is available in the lounges.

There are tennis courts but no nets yet, and the gym's not quite ready for basketball. Locations are still being sought for the pool tables which have been delivered.

"I think people who would get bored here would get bored practically anywhere," is Caldwell's estimate.

But boredom can present a problem. Students who flew in from the west complain that without their own cars and with no transportation provided by the Academy, getting around is a task.

Students who'll take the nine-month inspector training which will be the Academy's longest residence program have the option of bringing their families along at their own expense: most will probably not be able to afford it, nor is it easy to find housing in the Beckley area. The Academy's rooms are for students only.

Housing for the Academy staff - around 20 have moved in to the area so far, with more expected by January - has been one of the Academy's growing pains, admits Superintendent Dr. Michael Zabetakis.

"We've lost some people we otherwise might have had," he said. "They were interested in coming, but they took a look at the housing situation and didn't."

The two-person rooms for students - 171 on four tiers, overlooking woods - are comfortable. The food is reported to be great.

"I've gained weight since I got here," groaned one student.

"I keep telling these guys, this place is all right," said Native American Larry Edmo, 35. "Hell, being an Indian, I never had it so good."

Edmo mined phosphate in Idaho for 14 years on the Shoshone and Bannock reservation where he grew up.

He has been a police officer and a rodeo rider - "I quit because I was getting put in the hospital too many times" - and was on a waiting list three years for the mine inspector's post.

He'll oversee sand, gravel and clay operations in Oregon, plus "a lot of weekend miners" looking for gold, copper or iron.

"For them, the big strike is always just behind the next blast," Edmo said. "But they never strike it rich - they're still blasting."

Tuesday's 2 p.m. dedication ceremony will include addresses by Sen. Robert C. Byrd (D. - W. Va.), Interior Secretary Thomas S. Kleppe, and MESA administrator Robert Barrett.

A variety of activities including tours, film shows and demonstrations of first aid and mine rescue techniques will begin at 10 a.m.


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