How the guilt for the death of miners made an engineer the founder of the mining rescue service
In 1908, a catastrophe occurred at the Rykovsky coal mines, which to this day remains the largest accident at coal mining enterprises in Russia. The manager of the mine did not deny his accountability for the deaths of 274 people. Why then was he punished only symbolically?
Dmitry Levitsky was born in 1873 in Odessa. After studying at the Richelieu gymnasium, he graduated from two higher educational institutions: Novorossiysk University and the Mining Institute in St. Petersburg. Having received the title of mining engineer in 1901, the young man returned to his native land and got a job at a steel plant.
Before becoming the manager of that “infamous mine”, he had worked at several mines in Donbas: Berestovsky, Yekaterinovsky, Rutchenkovsky and Grigorievsky mines.
in the meantime, in the mining industry at that time the issue of improving the safety of miners was especially acute. The fact is that in the period from 1887 to 1913, the production of coal in the Russian Empire increased 8 times - from 4.5 to 37 million tons per year. Such a rapid development of the industry explicitly affected the number of accidents.
The public began to insist on the creation of mine rescue services. Thousands of miners took part in protest actions; they were brutally dispersed, but the complaints were taken into consideration. And in 1907, the first Central Rescue Station in Makeyevka was finally opened in Russia. (The town was famous for its developed network of coal enterprises, which provided a quarter of the mining of minerals in Donbas.)
During the first year, the service building was erected, equipment was purchased, and a team of workers was recruited. At that time, no one knew that less than a year remained until one of the most terrible catastrophes in the history of the country's raw materials complex, and organizational issues should have been resolved much faster.
On June 18, 1908, an explosion of methane and coal dust occurred in mine No. 4/4 bis of the Makaryevsky mine of the Rykovsky coal mines, which caused an underground fire. 270 miners and 4 rescuers were killed, 47 were seriously injured.
Two days later, the local priest Ioann Trukhmanov telegraphed the chairman of the Council of Ministers:
"The families of the victims are begging you to appoint an early investigation of the perpetrators of the vain deaths..."
At his request, Stolypin received the results of a preliminary investigation, which indicated that in the days preceding the accident experienced miners would not dare to go down into the mine. They complained to the manager of the mine Lashkin about the large amount of gas and were fearful of an explosion. However, he ignored such statements. Due to that, at the time of the emergency, not a single foreman was involved in the production of work, and more than 75% of the workers were young men aged 16 to 22 years.
At the same time, the report did not contain a word about the manager of the mine, Levitsky, who, according to his position, was directly responsible for the safety of mining operations. And although he was eventually brought to trial, the sentence was limited to a few months in arrest. What explained the loyal attitude of the police and the miners themselves to Dmitry Levitsky?
First of all, these were his vital actions immediately after the accident. The mining engineer immediately went to the mine, personally extinguished the flames, took out dozens of workers. Despite the strongest carbon monoxide poisoning, he again and again went underground and led the rescue work. But the lack of the necessary equipment and a trained team capable of coordinated action, the scarcity of scientific research in the geology of methane and its links with coal produced a strong impact on the scale of the consequences.
Levitsky, who until the end of his life was haunted by a feeling of guilt for the explosion, promised himself to devote his further career to the study of firedamp. And when in 1908 he became the head of the Central Rescue Station, he was, as they say, at the right time in the right place.
What was this structure like? It had 10 team members, a manager and a deputy. In the first years of operation, there were only 8 respirators, two apparatus for the production of artificial respiration, three transport oxygen cylinders and one booster oxygen pump. It is not difficult to estimate how many victims this arsenal could provide assistance to. All the equipment was of foreign production, since it was simply not produced in Russia.
In terms of scientific developments, our scientists were not inferior to their foreign colleagues. So, Levitsky in 1911 created the “revitalizing” apparatus named “Makeyevka”. It was a completely new respirator in its idea, differing from the existing tank apparatus by the physical regeneration of the air used. The original design was based on the use of liquid oxygen. Dmitry Levitsky published an article in a scientific English journal in which he criticized the mining rescue equipment existing at that time. Under its influence, the industry leader, the German Dräger company, redesigned its breathing apparatus, taking into account the comments of the Russian engineer. He founded central mine rescue stations in Donbas, Krivoy Rog iron ore basin, Kizelovsky coal basin, and in the city of Anzhero-Sudzhensk (Kuzbass). He created the first in Russia scientific and laboratory base to study the issues of ensuring the safety of work in mines.
However, the scientist saw his main task in studying the issues related to the prevention of explosions of gases and coal dust in mines. In order to get acquainted with foreign experience, he visited the most important coal basins in Austria, Germany, Belgium, England, and France.
And then, together with another graduate of the St. Petersburg Mining Institute, Nikolai Chernitsyn, the engineer began extensive scientific research on the properties and conditions of methane release, the formation of coal dust in mine workings and the causes of their flammability. Thus, they laid the foundations for the science of labor safety in the mining industry.
An equally important result of their work was the official recognition of twenty-four layers in the Donbas mines as “hazardous in terms of the explosiveness of coal dust”. It is difficult to say how many accidents this helped to prevent, but it is clear that the former manager of mine No. 4/4 bis of the Makaryevsky mine did everything to atone for his guilt.
He took personal part in the rescue of underground workers on more than one occasion. In March 1912, during the explosion of gas and coal dust at the Italianka mine in Makeyevka, which killed 56 miners, Dmitry Levitsky, together with his team, searched for and retrieved the dead for a week. After he left his service due to his age, he worked as a scientific director at the Stalin Research Coal Institute until the end of his days.