updated 9/11/2006 6:39:35 PM ET 2006-09-11T22:39:35

Massey Energy Corp. announced Monday it will install belt line sprinklers, modify its escape training and equip its mine rescue teams with thermal imaging systems in an effort to prevent underground fires and improve rescue efforts.

The moves were prompted by a review of safety and rescue procedures after the January deaths of two miners following a belt line fire at subsidiary Aracoma Coal Co.'s Alma No. 1 mine in Logan County.

"Until this year, Massey Energy had not had a serious mine fire or mine explosion during my 24 years with the company," Massey Energy Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Don Blankenship said in a prepared statement.

"However, after investigating the incident at Aracoma, we felt that the procedures used in the industry to prevent and respond to mine fires needed to be re-evaluated both pragmatically and in light of the latest available technology."

Miners Donald Bragg and Ellery Hatfield died in the fire after they became separated by thick smoke from a mine crew trying to escape the Jan. 19 blaze. Their bodies were found two days later.

The federal Mine Safety and Health Administration and the state Office of Miners' Health Safety and Training have yet to issue reports on the fire. Investigators are looking at the mine's sprinkler system and whether structures to keep the primary escapeway free of smoke were missing.

Massey said it will equip its belt lines with sprinkler systems that will inundate the belts with water if there is a fire. Water lines will be constructed of steel to withstand higher temperatures. The company also will install firefighting stations where water hoses are already connected to a water supply. Miners currently have to connect hoses before fighting a fire.

The Richmond, Va.-based company's two mine rescue teams will be equipped with imaging systems similar to those used by firefighters to look through smoke for people trapped in fires.

Massey also announced it would step up inspections of the emergency air packs its miners use to escape.

Massey operates mines in West Virginia, Kentucky and Virginia.

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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