Around 40 volunteer firefighters from local departments participated in an extraordinary rescue training under the lights Thursday evening, March 7, at a farmstead in Rock Creek.
The exercise was organized so the firefighters could get more training experience they could use when it comes to rescuing farmers or others who get caught in grain bins.
The training began with a standing presentation by Dale Ekdahl, of Outstate Data, based in Elbow Lake, Minn., at the Rush City Fire Hall. Speaking from experience, he helped in the design of a new tool called a grain bin rescue tube with much input from rural fire chiefs across the 17 states in which he does the training.
Rush City Fire Chief Bob Carlson noted his department recently purchased the grain bin rescue tube, worth around $3,000, thanks to donations from local individuals and groups. The tube, which slides apart into 10 different panels with handles, each resembling a type of shield, will be housed at the Rush City department but will be made available for other fire departments in need.
Participating in the drill were members of the Almelund, Cambridge, Braham, Rush City (26 of 29 from roster attended) and Pine City volunteer fire departments. Lakes Region EMS officials were on hand, too.
Ekdahl said the rescue tubes are highly adaptable in the bin, designed to be simple, and they cut down on those precious seconds that make the difference between a rescue and a recovery operation. No two rescues are the same, he added, so ongoing training is necessary.
“Never give up hope on a victim,” emphasized Ekdahl, citing past emergencies and attempted rescues.
Fire officials and manufacturers are hoping the rescue tube will reduce risks, as a grain bin fatality was reported last year in Janesville, Minn., and another took place the year before in North Dakota, according to Carlson, noting grain bin fatality rates have risen since 2009’s soggy harvest season.
Meantime, nearly 900 fatal and nonfatal grain storage and handling-related cases were reported in Purdue University’s Agricultural Confined Spaces Database, according to a “Successful Farming” article published this month. In 2009, the university found, there were 38 fatalities, which is the highest number since 1993 when there were 42.
Minnesota, Illinois, Iowa, Wisconsin and Indiana account for most incidents.
Back to his talk, Ekdahl noted fire crews have to make sure there’s enough oxygen to breathe during the critical time in the grain bin. He added those working in grain bins should always have a lifeline on so friends can pull them out. This is crucial in case the grain shifts or gives out from pockets that can form underneath.
Two summers ago, a person was killed in a corn facility when a grain “avalanche” occurred, Ekdahl explained. Hardly like an avalanche of snow, “imagine 900 pounds of grain on your body. It doesn’t take much corn to submerge you.”
Ekdahl said walking in grain is difficult, as one will not be able to get out if the grain comes up over the knees. “Typically, the grain overcomes you and you’re trapped and can’t move,” he described.
Aside from farmers getting trapped in grain bin collapses, firefighters also can get trapped. Such was the case during an incident in Georgia, said Ekdahl. “Fire crews are encouraged to wear light coveralls, as a typical bin in the summertime can get very hot. The grain will follow you right onto the person trapped.”
While farmers are encouraged to stay out of bins if possible, they also are urged to never enter a bin alone without an observer; never enter a bin untrained; shut down/lock out all equipment; secure a lifeline; and train workers for emergencies.
In addition to the grain rescue innovation, Ekdahl noted grain bins today are being built with steps and even a ledge around the top for people to stand or observe. “ATV ladders are light and small and work great in bins so people don’t sink in the grain,” he explained. “You can use fire ladders, but a lot of old bins don’t have large openings.”