PITTSBURGH — Proud employees of a small drilling company too remote to have cable television found themselves Wednesday at the center of the world's biggest news story — but they still had to get the day's work done.
As rescuers brought 33 Chilean miners one by one in a metal capsule through a 2,000-foot hole bored by drill bits made by Center Rock Inc. of Berlin, Pa., workers in the small southwestern Pennsylvania community occasionally paused their daily routines to follow computer news feeds. Lunch was brought in to help them celebrate.
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But machines still needed to be oiled, floors still needed to be swept — and somebody still had to answer the phones, which were ringing off the hook.
"We still have customers who still need products today, so we're working and we're celebrating," inside sales manager Becky Dorcon told The Associated Press.
Center Rock has a brief, but storied, history. Founded in 1998, the company's profile rose appreciably in July 2002, when it pitched in during a similar rescue to free nine miners trapped underground for more than three days in the flooded Quecreek Mine a few miles away.
Tom Foy, 61, who still lives in Berlin, was one of the Quecreek miners but has worked for Center Rock for nearly five years.
"The kids won't let me go back," said Foy, a married father referring to his four children, ages 34 to 38. "I gave the mining up. I wasn't about to put them through that again."
Although Quecreek helped put Center Rock on the map, it was the company's LP Drill — or low-profile drill — developed five years ago that has seen the company grow from 16 to 75 employees and put the company at the center of the Chilean rescue, Dorcon said.
Schramm Inc. of West Chester, Pa., makes the T-130 drill used to make the hole; Center Rock makes the 28-inch wide canisters that function as the bit. Each canister contains four air hammers and four drill bits that move in tandem to dig through rock.
Center Rock owner Brandon Fisher, just back Tuesday night from Chile, fielded dozens of interview requests — and hoped to sneak away for some sleep.
In an exclusive interview with the Daily American of Somerset, Fisher said he and wife, sales director Julie Fisher, were back in Berlin in time to watch on television as the first miner was pulled from the hole where he and his colleagues had been trapped since Aug. 5.
Fisher, 38, and Richard Soppe, 58, his director of construction and mining tools, spent 37 days with scant sleep drilling the rescue shaft. Julie Fisher joined them about two weeks ago, and relatives and friends gathered to welcome them home Tuesday.
"When I saw the first guy looking healthy, that's what it's all about," Fisher told the newspaper. "But the mission is not over until the last guy is out."
Fisher was especially drawn to miner Mario Sepulveda Espina, with whom Fisher interacted by video during the drilling process.
Espina, the second miner pulled from the shaft, made made a bizarre request while still underground: wigs. Officials granted Espina's request, Fisher told the Daily American, and the miner wore one in front of a video monitor, joking about what shampoo did to his hair — perhaps a reference to a commercial in which a wig-clad Troy Polamalu blames his big hair on shampoo.
Once rescued, Espina ran along high-fiving those above ground.
"He was a practical joker; he used humor to keep the morale up," Fisher told the newspaper.
Dorcan said the company took "tremendous pride" in the rescue.
"Everybody here has been giving 110 percent since the day Brandon got in contact with the people of Chile and it was thought he was going and our tools were going to be used," she said.
Foy said Center Rock volunteered to help in Chile after officials there confirmed the miners were still alive Aug. 22, but said soon afterward that they expected it would take until Christmas to dig a rescue shaft.
"They said, 'Well, heck, they ain't getting out till Christmastime, and I know and Brandon knows and we all knew we could get down to them faster than that," Foy said. "We proved that Center Rock is a little company, but they do big things."
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