Larry Stowinsky

FROM the point in the mid-1980’s when Larry Stowinsky first joined his mine’s rescue team, he knew he had found his true calling.
Larry Stowinsky Larry Stowinsky Larry Stowinsky Larry Stowinsky Larry Stowinsky

Larry Stowinsky

Angie Tomlinson

Since that time, Larry has gone onto captain a rescue team, lead teams at two mine fires and now is an Emergency Response and Training Specialist with the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. He has spent 19 years in the US coal industry working in room and pillar and longwall operations before leaving the coal face to become a mine rescue instructor. Larry has been involved in rescue operations at Marianna and Quecreek. When his not preaching the merits of mine safety and conducting mine rescue training, Larry enjoys woodworking and spending time with his wife, daughters and four grandchildren.

ILN:What is your earliest mining memory?

LS: Playing on the “slate dump” in the coal mining town where I lived for the first eight years of my life. I can recall playing games with neighbors, exploring the run-off crevasses, and generally getting very dirty. I can also remember exploring old beehive coke ovens and getting into plenty of trouble from my mom for doing so.

ILN: What made you choose mining as a career?

LS: Jobs were readily available in the coal mines and the pay was very good compared to others nearby.

ILN: When was your first underground visit?

LS: My first day of work underground at age 18. The mine was Westland Mine of Pittsburgh Coal Co. and I started as an apprentice miner. I was very excited to be a miner. At that young age I had been married about a couple weeks and now started a good job working with grown men and I felt I had “become a man.”

ILN: What was your favourite job in a coal mine?

LS: Shift mine foreman. Becoming Shift Mine Foreman of a large mine at the age of 30 I felt was a real accomplishment and was quite proud. Although a very hectic and responsible job, it was also challenging and rewarding (and sometimes scary and frustrating).

ILN: What was your least favourite job?

LS: Traveling and examining gob bleeder entries in hip boots. These bleeders were always in extremely deteriorated condition and few were permitted to enter because of it but they were required by law to be examined regularly and someone had to do it. A regular Tuesday bleeder had to be examined on Tuesday regardless of whether it was a holiday or not and I sometimes found myself in hip boots on Christmas Day slogging through the old creaky entries. (I can even remember my wife bringing me my Thanksgiving Dinner at the mine once.)

ILN: Who, or what, has most influenced your mining career?

LS: Many have influenced me, but two who stand out are a professor in college named Bill Bates and a General Mine Foreman who I served under named Tom Duvall.

Mr. Bates was a professor who was a miner all his life and went to college later in life and became a teacher. I always thought that alone was a great accomplishment and he brought a certain savvy to the classroom that no one else could. Many things I learned in college I still use today. Tom Duvall was a fair, even-tempered man who could handle every and any situation. He loved his work and he could make you love it, too. He taught me many things about mining and life, things that I appreciate now. Tom passed away shortly after his retirement and I miss him. I consider Tom my mentor.

ILN: What do you consider your best mining achievement?

LS: I had, I think, a very good safety record while a supervisor. No fatalities and one disabling injury that I can recall.

ILN: What do you see as being the greatest mining development during your career?

LS: The automated temporary roof support system. The ATRS changed roof bolting. Setting temporary supports was always a hazardous job and the ATRS nearly eliminated the need for miners to expose themselves. I believe it has saved more lives underground than we will ever know.

ILN: Do you have any unfulfilled ambitions?

LS: I think we all do, but I am very happy with my life now and look forward to retirement and watching my grandchildren grow. I don’t thing I would change too much even if I could.

ILN: What was your most embarrassing moment in a coal mine?

LS: Once on Christmas Eve I sent the crews home an hour or so early on 4:00 to 12:00 PM shift. The last trip of coal cars going out derailed and damaged the track haulage. The only men left in the mine were the two motormen who derailed and me. I had to make them stay overtime with me to clear and repair the tracks. One of them was my wife’s father.

ILN: What was your scariest time in a coal mine?

LS: Recovering continuous miners from under roof falls. As, a shift foreman, I had to do this many times. These almost all had to many scary moments to list. It is hard to watch people do hazardous work and usually did the worst tasks myself.

ILN: What is your worst memory of coal mining?

LS: The coal mine fire that closed Marianna Mine in 1988. Marianna was not just another coal mine, at least to me. It was a living, breathing entity that had endured for generations and promised to last for several more. Many had worked their lives there, and there were always older folks to learn from and listen to and younger ones listen. I have probably said a hundred times that I wish I had written down all the stories the old miners told. Today they could make a best seller, I bet. So when Marianna Mine died on that fateful day in March, 1988, a lot more died with it.

ILN: What prompted you to become involved in mine rescue?

LS: A good friend who was the team trainer asked me to join and become a captain. The company had not let foreman participate before and he convinced the company to change their policy to let me on the team.

ILN: What was your most memorable actual mine rescue?

LS: The fire at Marianna Mine where 28 men had to escape from inby, some two or three miles. All escaped, and it was a harrowing experience for all. At Marianna I was in charge at the time and supervised the evacuation and fire-fighting efforts.

The Quecreek rescue was also a very memorable experience. At Quecreek I had a very minor role finding and getting equipment to the scene to help with the pumping. Though I had a very small part in it I am very proud to have been a part of it. I was present when communication was made with the miners and when they were brought out, and I can honestly say it was such an emotional moment that I can only compare to the birth of my children.

ILN: What changes would you like to see in underground coal mine rescue training and actual rescues?

LS: More team training in smoke filled entries. Our state-trained teams get this type of training 3 or 4 times a year with the help of NIOSH and MSHA.