Wilberg Coal Mine Disaster Remembered (Utah)

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"In memory of our fellow brothers, sister, and coworkers who needlessly lost their lives in the Wilberg Coal Mine disaster."

Those words are the introductory phrase inscribed on the Wilberg Coal Mine disaster monument located at SR-10 and the Wilberg mine road. The monument was placed on a piece of ground near the mine to memorialize the 26 men and one woman who lost their lives 25 years ago in the mine.

The fire which began on Dec. 19, 1984 at the Wilberg mine claimed the lives of: Bert Bennett, Ricci Camberlango, Curtis Carter, Robert Christensen, Gordon Conover, Randy Curry, Owen Curtis, Roger Ellis, Brian Howard, Gary Jennings, Lee Johansen, Joel Nevitt, Kelly Riddle, Lynn Robinson, Ray Snow, John Waldoch, Lester Walls Jr., John Wilsey, Nannette Wheeler, Phillip Bell, James Bertuzzi, David Bocook, Vic Cingolani, James Hamlin, Leroy Hersh, Barry Jacobs, and Alex Poulos.

On Dec. 19 of this year, the 25th anniversary of the disaster, United Mine Workers of America hosted a memorial and dinner for all who attended the ceremony which began at the memorial site and proceeded to Emery High School auditorium. Mike Dalpiaz, International Vice President of District 22, opened the evening at the miners memorial.

"After the tragedy 25 years ago, we decided we needed a place to honor these fallen miners. This place is sacred ground, and we need to honor and respect these fallen and this monument," said Dalpiaz. "We are here to pay a sad tribute of love to our fellow miners."

Everyone in attendance then placed an evergreen sprig on the monument as a token of respect to the fallen miners. "Their memory will be with us always and to the families of these miners, look to God for comfort," concluded Dalpiaz.

The ceremony then moved to the high school auditorium where everyone gathered in a much warmer atmosphere. Dalpiaz noted that Cecil Roberts, International President of the UMWA could not be at the ceremony due to the severe snowstorm happening in Washington D.C.

"He sends his heartfelt sympathy and sorrow to the families and friends of the fallen miners," said Dalpiaz. "We talk together often and we talk of this tragedy and how we can work to see a tragedy like this never happens again."

Along the front of the auditorium where the stage begins, 27 miners hard hats with cap lamps attached, were positioned. The lighting ceremony was conducted by Dalpiaz, with union representatives and friends of the fallen miners turning on the cap lamps. The names were read and lamps lighted in memory of each miner. At the conclusion of the lighting ceremony, 27 rays of light beamed across the dark auditorium.

"On Dec. 19, just after 10 p.m., I heard about the events going on at the Wilberg. My life, along with all of yours, was changed forever," Dalpiaz stated. "This was absolutely needless and we have learned from it and must work to see that it never happens again. There have been many changes in mine safety because of these types of accidents. We need to get more involved and speak out to make sure these safety changes take place. One very important change happened just recently. Joe Main was named, by Pres. Obama, to be the assistant to the director of Coal Mine Safety. He is a miner and a hands-on type of guy. Things are changing already. Gov. Huntsman, because of the Crandall Canyon disaster, formed the State Office of Coal Mine Safety. Our hearts are with the families of Crandall Canyon and we will continue to help you."

Kevin Stricklin, Administrator of Coal Mine Safety, MSHA Department of Labor was the next speaker. He began by reading a letter from Main, who could not be there. The letter told how Main was at the Wilberg Mine soon after the news of the fire.

"I would like to think those miners did not die in vain," Main wrote in the letter. "Many changes have taken place since then due to this tragedy. As assistant to the administrator, I pledge to do everything possible to enforce the principles of the Mine Safety and Health Administration so tragedies like this won't happen again."

Stricklin said he has been in mining for more than 27 years and was also at the Wilberg during the fire. He came in to aid the effort to keep the rescuers safe during the attempt to rescue the miners. "Those 27 miners lost in the Wilberg are the most I have seen in the years I have been working in mining. We are committed to change things and will do everything in our power so no more families have to endure what you have had to endure," said Stricklin.

Garth Nielsen, Director of the Utah State Office of Coal Mine Safety was the concluding speaker for the evening.

"I have worked in the coal industry for 37 years," he said. "We must never get complacent about mine safety. We must be alert for anything we can do to keep the miners safe. The best people walking around this earth are coal miners. I went to work at the Wilberg-Cottonwood mine after the fire and I have very good memories of those times. While I was standing at the memorial today, I looked up the canyon to the mine and many other memories flooded back. I could almost hear the voices of the miners from those days. Now, as the director of coal mine safety, the division is committed to help make mines safer. I thank God for having known those miners."

Dalpiaz presented the hard hats, which had the names of the fallen miners inscribed on them, to the members of the families.

The evening concluded with a dinner in the cafeteria along with more visiting and memories being passed around between those attending.

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