LANCASTER — Mine Shields Inc. refuge chambers aren’t the only things feeling the strain as one final certification test lasts longer than expected.
“It’s the most nervous I’ve been since my child was born,” CEO Connie Hendren said. “The pressure is just unbelievable on everybody.”
The refuge chambers began Mine Safety and Health Administration pressure testing Thursday in New Mexico, but due to inclement weather and the delicate nature of the test, results may not be complete until next week or later, he said.
The chambers have, however, withstood the first three stages of the test, which ultimately requires toleration of 15 psi of pressure for two milliseconds, simulating a mine explosion, Hendren said. By Tuesday, the chambers had resisted 11 pounds per square inch, he said.
Tolerating these forces is an essential function of the refuge chambers designed to provide food, water and breathable air for miners if they become trapped underground, Hendren said.
“We have to take it a step at a time,” he said. “They say nothing comes easy, and it seems like were down to the last one.”
The pressure test is the final of five necessary to get the chambers approved by MSHA because Mine Shields already haspassed four required temperature and humidity tests, Hendren said.
No other company has passed all four of those tests or this final test, he said. But if Mine Shields can do it, major rewards may be in store.
Mine Shields could potentially sell one refuge chamber to every mine in the country now. But a federal mandate requires that, once a company has produced MSHA-certified refuge chambers, all mines must have one chamber for every 2,500 feet of mine.
Hendren said Mine Shields has already received more than 100 e-mails and phone calls from mining companies interested in the progress of the testing, and he returned to Kentucky this week to meet with some of the them.
If Mine Shields receives MSHA certification, Lancaster residents also could reap the benefits.
Currently, the company has more than 30 employees and wants to have at least 35 by the end of the year regardless of the test’s outcome, he said.
However, certification would allow the company to employ more than 100 others. About 80 percent of the workforce would be welders, but Mine Shields also would need mechanical engineers, accountants, quality control personnel and others, Hendren said.
“Once we’re certified, that’s the only unit you can put in the mine,” he said.
MSHA probably will take several months to officially certify the chambers if they pass the psi test. But, within 30 days after certification, the company would hire four to eight people about twice a month, Hendren said.
“But nothing is for certain,” he said.