Alpha's mine rescue dog introduced
Mixed in among the 690 booths displaying the latest and greatest technology and software for the mining industry and the more than 5,100 the industry professionals attending SME’s Annual Meeting in Seattle, WA Feb. 19-22 was a 48-lb. Dutch Sheppard named Ginny (youtu.be/tN-cfZB6DtI).
Trained as the first underground mine and surface mine rescue dog in the world, Ginny is the first four-legged employee of Alpha Natural Resources. She was at the SME show with her handler Rick McAllister and officially introduced to the world on June 1 at the Governor’s Cup Mine Rescue Contest in Cedar Bluff, WV.
Equipped with an infrared camera and atmospheric gas detector, Ginny has been trained since she was three days old to search for missing, trapped, injured or unresponsive humans in unstable conditions or confined areas.
Introducing Ginny to search and rescue efforts is the latest move in a push to emphasize safety by Alpha Natural Resources, which bought Massey Energy last year after a 2010 explosion at Massey’s Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia that killed 29 men, the worst U.S. coal mining accident in decades. Alpha now has more than 180 mines and processing plants in Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia and Wyoming.
In a statement, Alpha CEO Kevin Crutchfield called Ginny a "tremendous new asset for mine search and rescue, both for our company and the industry."
Born in April 2010, Ginny was selected from a group of 44 puppies at a Williamsburg, WV, kennel that provides some of the highest-performing dogs in existence to branches of the U.S. military, law enforcement and homeland security. Trained by Bill Dotson, a canine behaviorist with expertise in search and rescue, Ginny honed her skills for two years and continues to train with the more than 200 miners on Alpha's 23 mine search and rescue teams.
Ginny can leap more than 2 m (6 ft) from a standing position, and can detect a scent up to one mile away. She also has what Dotson told Bloomberg Business Week is “nerve strength,” so in difficult situations she won’t give up and will continue with her mission of wading through rubble piles and navigating dark, tight spaces underground.
“It’s almost an emotional experience (watching Ginny work),” said Rick McAllister, Ginny’s handler, Alpha’s director of continuous improvement and the employee who came up with the idea that the company should train a dog specifically for mine search and rescue. “You start running comparisons in your mind on how you would find this person or that subject if the dog wasn't there. It’s just a remarkable thing to see. They are so focused, they are so driven.”
When she’s not training, Ginny travels across the country to attend various mine industry conferences -- but she's usually the only canine attendee. She also makes public appearances with her handler to help educate children and communities about coal mining and outdoor safety.
Ginny wears special mine safety gear, including a customized, protective vest embroidered with her name that shields her from possible wounds and lacerations. And the gas detector she wears makes a sound when she enters dangerous atmospheric conditions, prompting her to immediately retreat.