On April 1, 1927, Frank Burns, Roy Rushton, and William Heagy, members of a Valley Camp Coal Company mine rescue team, lost their lives in the No. 1 mine of the Connellsville By-Products Coal Company, Pursglove, West Virginia, while opening a sealed fire area. The men were wearing Gibbs oxygen breathing apparatus.
In sealing the fire several months before, stoppings had been erected at the portal of the main slope, and the crew, consisting of six men, entered the slope through an air lock for the purpose of erecting stoppings to form another fire airlock approximately 425 feet from the mouth of the slope.
They did not carry a lifeline, and there was no reserve crew at the fresh-air base. (A reserve crew was available, but the men comprising this crew were permitted by those in charge, to leave for lunch.) Burns and his crew had traveled about 225 feet when Rushton showed signs of distress and fell, whereupon, Burns, the team captain, instructed Heagy and two others to remain with Rushton while he and the other crew member returned to the surface to obtain a stretcher and additional help to carry out Rushton.
Considerable time was required for Burns to assemble a relief crew on the surface; and when he and his companion, in company with the relief crew, arrived at the point where Rushton had collapsed, it was found that Heagy had also collapsed. Thinking that there was a better chance to save Heagy's life than Rushton’s, he was placed on the stretcher and carried out of the mine.
Another crew was then organized to go after Rushton; however, when this crew reached the bottom of the slope they found Burns down, with his mouthpiece removed, and they immediately carried him outside. Artificial respiration was applied and oxygen administered to both Heagy and Burns, but they could not be revived.
The body of Rushton was not recovered until several hours later because of the demoralized condition of the crews. Finally, a fresh crew from a neighboring mine entered the air lock and recovered Rushton's body.
It is known that Burns and the members of his crew had had only a few days training in the use of oxygen breathing apparatus before starting the work in which three of them lost their lives and that they were definitely warned that they required more training before engaging in the contemplated recovery operations.
It is almost certain that this loss of life would not have occurred if a well-trained crew with a properly trained and equipped reserve crew at the fresh-air base had been used.