Quick actions of TMI employees save lives

Fire-damaged apartment building in Lead, South Dakota, is reduced to rubble.

Only remnants remain of the apartment building that caught fire in Lead, South Dakota on July 10. Employees of Thyssen Mining Inc., who use the building at the far right, saw when the fire started and ran into the burning structure to alert and evacuate residents, saving lives. Photo: Adam Gomez, Sanford Underground Research Facility

At 7 a.m. on the morning of July 10, Ryan Moe, U.S. general manager for Thyssen Mining Inc., was in a morning safety meeting with employees working in Lead, South Dakota. Just 10 minutes into the meeting, Moe noticed smoke rising from an apartment building a block away on Julius and Stone streets. When he and others stepped outside to assess the situation, he saw something else: several TMI team members rushing to the building.

“They were running up the stairs to the second floor, knocking on doors,” Moe said. “By the time we got there, smoke was billowing out of the building and our crews had evacuated all the residents. We got a fire kit and all the first-aid supplies we had in the office.” Several calls had been made to 911 when smoke was first noticed, Moe added.

Among the residents evacuated was Mike Larson, who had been seriously injured in the blaze. The TMI employees watched over Larson, who appeared quite disoriented. “We were cautious about rendering first aid due to the significant burns he had and worried about him going into shock,” Moe said.

According to his family, Larson suffered second- and third-degree burns to his face, hands, arms and back. He was transported by ambulance to the hospital in Deadwood, South Dakota (just three miles away), then taken by LifeFlight to Northern Colorado Medical Center in Greeley. His family said his treatment there will last for at least one month.

While waiting for fire and rescue teams, Thyssen crews redirected traffic and guided the emergency response vehicles to the scene. As crews from a dozen area fire departments arrived, the Thyssen team stepped back.

“We got everyone moved away from the area,” Moe said. “We didn’t want to be in the way, but we stood ready to help.” In fact, they did help. When the ambulance arrived, the paramedic asked a TMI employee to drive so he could administer first aid to the victim. “Our employee immediately jumped in and off they went to the hospital.”

Many of the TMI team members have extensive first-aid training, have served on mine rescue teams, and practice safety scenarios throughout the year as part of Thyssen’s overall training program.

“That’s part of who we are at Thyssen Mining,” Moe said. “But, of course, you can’t train for the responsive, selfless acts they did to save those residents and make sure everyone was accounted for. That just comes down to who our employees are. We’re proud of how they responded.”

TMI is excavating the caverns at Sanford Underground Research Facility for the Long-Baseline Neutrino Facility and Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment (LBNF/DUNE), a project managed by the Department of Energy’s Fermilab.

“The actions taken throughout the day by TMI employees were critical to saving lives,” said Chris Mossey of Fermilab. “This is a company that is committed to safety, and we are truly grateful they were there and reacted so quickly in an emergency situation.”

“Thyssen staff members made the difference between life and death for our neighbors,” said Mike Headley, executive director of SURF. “The entire SURF family is incredibly appreciative for their commitment to our community and their selfless courage.”

The TMI employees who responded to the fire, were in a morning safety turnover meeting when they noticed the first signs of a fire in the building next door to the Dry facilities.

The blaze, which started in the basement of the building and traveled through the floors and walls, took several hours to extinguish—and TMI stood ready to help throughout the day. Moe said there were several actions taken to save lives, “not just one single act.”

For example, he said, while waiting for rescue teams, TMI employees noticed a gas grill near the building. They quickly detached the propane tank and moved it away from the scene to prevent any additional issues.

Following the fire, TMI did a stand-down for their employees, giving them an opportunity to decompress and discuss what they saw.

“Their safety was key on our minds,” Moe said. “It was very traumatic for some of our guys to witness that, especially because of the resident who was badly injured.”

Moe paused then added: “Our employees were quite remarkable that day. I believe their quick actions saved lives. I’m very proud of what they did, how they acted and their professionalism.”

Update: Their bravery has not gone unnoticed: The TMI crew working on LBNF/DUNE was honored locally for its heroic efforts in rescuing residents from the apartment fire. The mayor of Lead recently declared July 23 “Thyssen Mining Company Employee’s Day within the city of Lead,” for their brave actions and positive impact on the community.