Mine Rescue – A family affair

Wednesday, April 01, 2015

Like father, like daughter

Adult daughter and father mine rescue volunteersAnnie Bilodeau does not have much of a memory of her father, Denis, being involved in mine rescue.

“Just study, lots of studying,” said Annie, who nonetheless joined her father on the Barrick-Hemlo team in last year’s Thunder Bay/Algoma District competition, becoming the first father-daughter pairing in Ontario Mine Rescue.

Annie had little interest in mine rescue or mining.

“I honestly never thought I’d work underground,” said Annie, who studied to be a police officer before joining Barrick’s security department. Then, “I went underground and I really liked it. Since I’ve been there, I love it and I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else,” said Annie, who now works in an automated area on a crusher.

Having her father in mine rescue made joining it attractive, said Annie, “but I really like the first aid part of it . . . I like to help people, and if something were to happen I’d like to know what I’m doing.”

“It took me awhile to get on” mine rescue, said Denis, who tried when he worked at Kidd Creek in Timmins and still had to wait several more years when he joined Barrick. But he was determined.

“I had the interest because I wanted to do first aid,” he said. “We had an injury on the ice while playing hockey with 20 guys standing around and nobody knew what to do. That bothered me a lot. Everybody wanted to help, but nobody knew what to do.” 

Denis, who works in Barrick’s safety department, finally joined mine rescue when Annie was about three years old, and started to compete when she was about 10. He’s earned a china cabinet of trophies and awards through 15 years of competition in his more than 23 years as a volunteer.

Six years ago after competing at the provincial competition on Barrick’s team for three consecutive years, Denis decided to try his hand as a technician, relying on his friend and retiring technician Norm Begin and Mine Rescue Officer Pat Gauthier for help.

“They were both very knowledgeable people. They gave me the experience, the knowledge and the confidence to succeed.” As a technician Denis won the district competition for six consecutive years, and in the subsequent provincial competitions placed second three times, and first twice, including 2013 in Windsor. He thought that would be his last.

“I was retired. I had won the provincial in Windsor. I was done,” Bilodeau said. “It was time for someone else.” And that was that, until Annie changed his mind.

“I got pretty lucky,” said Annie, who unlike her father, was quickly admitted into mine rescue, and then with less than a year experience, filled the competition team’s No. 3 position. “Everything was really, really new to me when we were training,” she said. “But we had an excellent team, they really helped me out.”

And then there was her dad.

“Once I found out Annie was on the team, I said, ‘You know what, I’ll give her one more year’, and that’s what I did just because she was there. It’s her fault,” he said.

Annie said her father, “showed us a few things, and he had a lot of experience, and gave us some tricks, like study tricks, like how to memorize stuff, and he showed us the BG4.”

This year it was Annie studying. “It was a lot of work. I don’t think people understand how much work is put into training for a competition. A lot of it is on your own too, at home studying.”

Denis, who finished second at the 2014 provincial, has retired from competition, but not mine rescue, again.

“I know I want to help the young people. I know I can’t get mine rescue out of me. It’s in me,” he said. “I’ll probably be judging or training or helping out our team in any way I can.”

And though Barrick did not reach the provincials in 2014, Annie has no plans to stop competing.

“I definitely have the itch,” she said. “I definitely want a gold hat.”

Though he has numerous trophies and awards, Denis has a more rewarding experience earned through his years of competition that he wants to share with younger volunteers – the sense of bond, of family, that exists between mine rescuers regardless of mine, company or country.

“Although we compete, we all do the same thing,” said Denis, and “what we do brings us closer together.”

Article reprinted from Winter 2014 Link Line mine rescue newsletter.