Every community has its unsung heroes; the people who quietly go about their daily lives using their time and talents to help others, often with little or no recognition.
One such person is long-time Ashcroft resident Gerry Wong, who has worked for Teck Highland Valley Copper (HVC) for 40 years. He has dedicated much time and effort over the course of those years to looking out for the health and safety of those around him, serving for more than 30 years as an ambulance paramedic in Ashcroft, and working as a trainer and evaluator in the firefighter program at HVC and in surrounding communities.
He is also the coordinator of the emergency response teams at HVC, and has both participated in and coached the Highland Valley Mine Rescue team. Earlier this year, his outstanding contributions to health and safety in the B.C. mining industry were recognized when he was awarded the prestigious Chief Inspector’s Recognition Award.
“I’ve always been interested in safety and first aid,” says Wong. “I was active on the union safety committee, then shifted to the company safety department, and for a few years I was part of the first environmental group at HVC.
“After that I returned to the HVC safety department, and throughout my career I got involved in safety more and more.” He began coaching mine rescue and first aid teams for competitions, and notes that the HVC team had “a good winning record in surface mine rescue competitions; a very successful run of first places.”
Since the combined mines of Bethlehem and Lornex became HVC in 1986, the teams have placed first at 24 zone and 14 provincial competitions. The three-person first aid teams also won 11 zone and two provincial three-person First Aid competitions.
Every year, Mine Rescue and First Aid competitions are held around the province, with teams from B.C. mines competing at zone and (if they qualify) provincial competitions.
Winning teams at the provincial level are then invited to take part in the Western Region Mine Rescue Competition, held in Fernie every two years. Wong is proud to note that the HVC team won that competition four times.
Teams compete in several areas, including extrication, rope, practical bench, first aid, firefighting, and a written exam. While no lives are at stake at the competitions, the skills the competitors demonstrate have very practical real-world implications, as Wong knows firsthand.
On September 18, 2007, the HVC mine rescue team of which Wong was a part was called to the Graymont Pavilion quarry between Cache Creek and Lillooet. An operator was working a high wall when it failed, and some 35,000 tonnes of material sloughed off the wall and came down on the operator’s excavator.
The operator was trapped in the cab for 13 hours while the HVC team worked with the Graymont employees to extricate him, saving his life. For their efforts, the HVC mine rescue team was jointly awarded the Chief Inspector’s Recognition Award in 2010.
Wong’s position at HVC entails day-to-day emergency response, and coordinating the work of the close to 100 people involved with emergency response there. He also is, or has been, active in many other aspects of mine safety.
“I was involved in developing the first Mine Code (regulations) for mine safety in B.C., and last year participated with a core group to rewrite the Western Canada mine rescue manual, a process that took 18 months.
It started off as a B.C. manual, and now covers much of of Western Canada. It was published late last year.” He is currently president of the B.C. North/South/Central Mine Rescue and Safety Supervisors Association.
“It’s been exciting,” says Wong, looking back over his career and life. “All the people who help with all the stuff I do: it’s about teamwork, and the people involved make it all worthwhile.
“I do it to help fellow workers, and the local community. It’s all about making a difference, helping an individual in need, or training someone to do the same the same for someone at the mine or at home.”