Hires train with veterans in Consol mines
Chad Pethtel had never touched a continuous miner machine before Wednesday.
By Thursday he was guiding one straight into the Pittsburgh No. 8 coal seam, 800 feet underground.
The 70-ton, sedan-sized machine scraped off wet, black chunks of coal, then stopped to reinforce the roof. It drilled rods eight feet up into the earth above to help hold the flaky sheets of rock into one stable ceiling.
Pethtel was at the controls, with a mentor by his side, the whole time.
“There's so many safety measures put on the machine — it could get away from you and at any time — but it's pretty much like a video game,” said Pethtel, 33, of Carolina in Marion County, W.Va. “Just know what you're doing and make sure you keep your thumbs in the right place at the right time.”
Pethtel is a foreman trainee at Blacksville No. 2 Mine and one of about 550 Consol Energy Inc. employees this year going through a new training program that company officials showed off to news media and government officials.
Trainees spend a week in an underground classroom at Bailey Mine Complex in Richhill, Greene County. One part is a typical-looking classroom with red plastic tables on painted gray floors. The rest is just around the corner: tunnels with mining equipment actually mining coal.
The program pairs trainees with miners who have as many as 40 years of experience. There's a wave of retirements coming all across the coal industry, and mining companies need to give focused, hands-on training to recruits to minimize potential for accidents and injuries, said Joe Sbaffoni, director of the Bureau of Mine Safety at the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.
“This is the way to do it,” Sbaffoni said after Consol officials led an hourlong tour and demonstration. “We've worked very closely with the program because I believe in it 100 percent. ... This is unique. It's state of the art.”
The industry had a slew of accidents the last time it hired a wave of workers in the 1970s, he said.
There were an average of 141 coal mining deaths a year nationwide that decade, compared to just 31 a year from 2006 to 2012, federal Mine Safety and Health Administration statistics show.
Pennsylvania had no mining deaths in 2010 and 2012, for the first years ever. The state's last mining death underground happened at Bailey in June 2009.
The $700 million investment — including a new longwall section at Bailey that opens in March — comes at a troubled time for Cecil-based Consol. The prices of natural gas and electricity, and a federal crackdown on coal pollution, have battered the coal industry. Consol alone lost nearly $14.6 million dollars in the first half of 2013 and had a fire at Blacksville.
Largely because of retirements, the company needs to hire about 500 to 1,000 coal miners every year. It has to stay strong for the long haul, and that means recruiting and training workers even during times of financial trouble and uncertainty, Consol President Nicholas J. DeIuliis said.
“That puts us in a position to ride out the peaks and the troughs in the market,” he said. “There's going to be really strong periods of time and challenging periods of time. The goal is not to change your decision-making in tough times.”
Consol's classes include supervision, equipment operation and mine examination. The goal is to get trainees a break from the hectic pace of production and into an environment where they can think and do work that inexperienced miners are not allowed to do, officials said.
“What's nice is you can bring them here and the pressure is off,” said Scott Kee, assistant superintendent at Bailey Mine Expansion. “They can learn and absorb it better. Otherwise, you take them in sometimes, and their heads just start spinning.”
Kee is in the type of position that Tim Harvilla would like someday. The 28-year-old from Mt. Pleasant, Washington County, started as an industrial engineer, studying how long it took company workers to complete tasks in the mine. To move up, he needs experience in doing some of the work, and learning from veterans is the best way, he said.
“These guys are absolute professionals at their jobs,” Harvilla said. “They give you tricks you won't learn in any book.”
Timothy Puko is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7991 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Consistency keeps Cellone’s Bakery customers coming back
- Tesla home battery at $7K, partnered with rooftop solar system, may help reduce power bills
- EPA to release biofuels proposal by June 1
- Charter Communications makes offer for Time Warner Cable
- Financial planning for disabled people a little-tapped field
- Market inches further into record territory as oil price jump boosts energy sector
- With higher student debt than ever, millennials rely on support from parents
- How to cover work history gaps
- Cuba’s dairy industry, once touted as a success, is struggling
- American Eagle posts improved first-quarter results
- Home sales slipped in April on tight supply, high prices