'Look! Up in the sky! it's a bird! It's a plane! It's drägermen!'
Since 1969, Mine Rescue has stood unassumingly at the foot of the R62 headframe, known formerly as K57 before the grid moved from imperial to metric. Here, its trained members prepared to quickly respond to emergency situations. Their motto – Prepared for the worst, giving our best.
We all know that Mine Rescue personnel are at the ready and willing to spring into action at a moment's notice in case of disaster, but have you ever wondered how they came about?
Mine Rescue is steeped in history, with its beginnings around 1906 following the mining tragedy in the French town of Courrières.
In that disaster over 1,000 miners lost their lives following an underground fire that sparked a massive explosion destroying the complex series of coal mines.
A man by the name of Bernhard Dräge and German mine rescue teams travelled to Courrières answering the call for aid. He brought along with him a breathing apparatus which he had developed two years earlier which was used to assist the rescue and recovery efforts.
Even though political relations between France and Germany were extremely tense at the time, this was the first time the term Drägerman was used by the miner's wives to thank the French and German Mine Rescue teams.
The Dräger breathing apparatus soon gained a reputation as a far superior technology compared to other solutions available at the time.
Following a series of mine disasters in North America where the respiratory protective devices produced by Dräger were used, American emergency responders began to proudly call themselves 'Drägermen'.
On the back of this popularity, two Comic Strip writers developed a "Superhero" in the form of a Dragerman. It ran in newspapers for a short time until their Editor said it was not exciting enough for the public to read. They needed to come up with a new character.
Those writers were Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. The next character they came up with was Superman.
In 1938, to pay homage to their first comic strip, the Drägerman appeared in the first solo Superman comic, helping the hero rescue people trapped in a mine collapse.
Ron Pippenbacher, Supervisor – Mine Rescue says that from the early days Mount Isa Mines had a strong commitment to safety on the mining lease.
"Mines Rescue has always played a crucial role in our emergency management approach, providing first responder capabilities to incidents across our operations," Ron says.
"Mine Rescue at Mount Isa Mines was established in the 1930s and based at R62 for the last 50 years which is a really significant milestone."
"We've always had an important relationship with Dräger and have relied on their advanced breathing apparatus and a variety of their gas detection equipment."
"One of the first Dräger self-contained breathing apparatus was the BG174 which served us well and was extremely innovative for its time."
"Today we use the BG4 model which is positively pressured and provides the wearer with an independent oxygen supply for three hours of activity, allowing for a reserve safety margin."
While acknowledging the historical connection of Mines Rescue and Drägermen with Superman, the reference sits rather uncomfortably with Ron.
"Mine Rescue is comprised of normal men and women who work at the mine who train hard to assist in times of emergency."
The full complement of the Mount Isa Mines Rescue Squad consists of 42 members across our Copper, Zinc, HSEC and Central Service operations.
"Mount Isa has six teams that rotate on-call to respond to emergencies so spare a thought for them while enjoying your leave over Christmas," says Ron.
Mines Rescue personnel are tested with realistic and time pressured scenarios, ensuring they are exposed to best practice techniques.
"Our personnel must be able to be dressed and ready to respond underground at the Mine Rescue Station within 20 minutes of receiving a call," Ron says.
"We're currently on the lookout for new recruits so if you have a high level of fitness and are open to being on call at certain times of the month we'd like to hear from you."