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West Metro Fire trained to respond to mine shafts

DOUGLAS COUNTY, Colo. -- It was just before 8 p.m. Saturday when a teenager called 911, saying his friend had fallen down a mine shaft in Roxborough Park, creating a highly technical and dangerous rescue scenario for a team from West Metro Fire Rescue.

"We actually have trained at those exact shafts before so we've got a very well trained tech rescue program that this call is something we do fairly often," chief Doug Hutchinson said.

With the help of more than 30 volunteers from Douglas County Search and Rescue, crews managed to reach the 13-year-old who had fallen more than 115 feet below the surface.

Because the team was familiar with the very difficult terrain and mine shaft, rescuers pulled the boy out and carried him down to a waiting Air Life helicopter, and he was flown to Swedish Medical Center.

"It absolutely could have turned out a lot different," Hutchinson said.

The mine shaft is one of an estimated 23,000 abandoned mines across Colorado and until new laws were enacted in 1977, companies routinely just walked away from them with no remediation.

"Not only do these shafts exist, but all over the foothills there are old mine shafts some marked some not so when you're hiking or in an area you're unfamiliar with absolutely you should use an elevated state of caution," Hutchinson said.

Many of them are very close to residential areas where Angie Sprague said she's heard about them for 17 years.

"I'm aware of them, but I don't know where to find the entrances. I know some of the kids that even hang out with my teenagers have been in them. I don't think my son has. I'm a little curious to ask him, but definitely not a safe thing to be doing," Sprague said.

In some areas, the mines are capped, but many such as the one in this incident are still open and pose a continuing danger, especially for curious teens, a danger the crew with West Metro is familiar with.

"We do select target hazards as we call them in the area could be probable locations for future rescues just to familiarize ourselves with that exact spot so if and when and it's almost always when we have a call in those type of locations we're already familiar with the situation," Hutchinson said.