Workshop Covers the Dangers of Grain Bin Rescues

3/15/2014 7:00 AM
By Rick Hemphill Maryland Correspondent

BOONSBORO, Md. — “You can’t move your feet. It is almost like a vacuum as it sucks you in.”

That’s how Scott Adams, a veteran firefighter from Longmeadow Volunteer Fire Company in Hagerstown, Md., describes the feeling of being engulfed by corn in a grain bin.

“This is really good training and until you can experience what it is like to be trapped inside, you really don’t know how confined you are. You are not crawling out.”

Adams was one of more than 70 fire, rescue and emergency personnel from four states who took part in the Fire, Rescue, EMS Grain Bin Rescue Education hands-on seminar March 8-9 at the Washington County Agricultural Center in Hagerstown.

The free seminar included instructors from Penn State, University of Delaware and University of Maryland. Perdue Agribusiness provided training staff and a specially built trailer to give hands-on grain entrapment and rescue training.

The seminar was organized by Dale Price, whose third-generation Price and Price Farms experienced an incident with one of their grain bins Nov. 20. An employee, Neil Burker, was rescued after five hours being entrapped in a grain bin.

“I have been doing this my whole life and it can happen,” Price said, explaining why he wanted to set up the training. “My father and I have been working with grain for many years and we had never seen that happen. We were inches and seconds away from a disaster.”

Price discovered that while firefighters are trained on many types of rescues, getting someone out of a grain bin safely wasn’t one of them.

“There was no training out there for ag accidents, Price said. “And the more I delved into this, the more I felt something needed to be done.”

Price said Mike Love, a University of Delaware Extension agent in community and occupational safety, first suggested the idea of a training session.

“Then David Hill offered up Penn State’s Educational Trailer that had all the educational gizmos and gadgets that showed the forces of the grain,” Price said. “Finally, the University of Maryland’s Frank Ullnut put me in touch with Perdue in Greencastle, who put me in touch with their training officer and we decided to give it a try.”

An engulfment rescue bin was provided by Perdue Agribusiness.

“We have been training our own people for the last eight years,” said Jeff Willis of Perdue Agribusiness. “We simulate engulfment for firefighters and show them how to rescue individuals. About seven years ago, we started to set up training and we have trained farmers and responders from New York to South Carolina.”

Willis said safety is the most important message to teach first responders when it comes to grain bin rescues.

“If it is going to be a rescue rather than a recovery, you have to be concerned about the safety of the rescuers and all the people involved around the incident,” he said. “The tricky part is how to enter the bin and perform the rescue without causing further harm to the patient or themselves. We want people to know what we know and share that.”

Scott Kephart, facilities manager for Perdue, said farmers need to know when it is unsafe to enter a grain bin.

“We need to prevent farmers from going into grain tanks unattended without the proper knowledge,” Kephart said.

When it comes to training first responders on grain bin accidents, Kephart said specific training is needed.

“It is not like a trench rescue or confined space with dirt. It is not like pulling someone out of a car. This is a combination of a lot of different disciplines and there is no one perfect way to do it,” he said. “A situation by situation assessment is what it takes to get that person out of there, and the rescue operations can be as dangerous to the rescuers as the victim. There can be dust issues, avalanches, and they can be entrapped as well. There may be atmospheric conditions in the tank that can affect the rescuers. Definitely learn as much about grain bin entry and rescue as you can.”

Dave Hill, manager of the Ag Rescue Program at Penn State, brought an educational trailer to the event.

“What we are showing with our trailer is the hazards of flowing grain. We train farm people how to recognize the dangers and how quickly they can be caught in flowing grain,” Hill said.

Even though grain bin entrapments are rare in Pennsylvania, Hill said more grain bins are being put up each year, and he expects an increase in the number of grain bin accidents.

“This is an event for both the emergency responders and farmers, and it is absolutely critical that emergency responders get to know their farmers,” Hill said. “Responders need to know what spaces farmers are going into and the hazards they face on the farm so that they can be helped more efficiently. This training is an excellent opportunity for the emergency responders to get to know the farm community. This is a real eye opener.”

The Community Foundation of Washington County, a nonprofit organization, assisted Price in putting on the event. Price said he hoped to raise $3,500 to purchase a bin rescue kit for the Special Operations Unit based in Hagerstown, Md. With the help of several organizations, including the county Farm Bureau, Price said he exceeded his fundraising goal.

“The kit is a rescue tube and an auger, which will empty the capacity of the tube in four minutes. With the tube there are some little plastic platforms to put onto the corn to keep you from sinking, harnesses and ropes so you can do the whole thing with confidence,” he said.

For Price, the training session was personal. He remembers almost going into the grain bin himself on that late November day.

“I figured the bin was almost empty and there can’t be much wrong, so I figured I’d send two guys in there after lunch. I know it is wrong, but I have done it all of my life,” he said. “Under normal conditions, walking in a grain bin is like high- stepping in snow. When the grain started flowing again, I went for the shutoff switch and where a man had stood in the center of the bin, the grain was level with his armpits and his arms were above his head. He felt the floor move and in seconds he was engulfed.

“My first call was to a guy here on the farm that I knew could be helpful, the second call was to 911 and the third call was to the local elevator, because I knew they had a grain vacuum,” he added.

Price said first responders were at the farm in 15 minutes, but it took an additional five hours for his employee to be rescued.

“The firefighters were well trained and knew what they were doing. They were confident, but it was obvious they lacked the training for this specific rescue,” he said. “There is a fine line between a disaster and a learning experience.”

Adams said the training helped him understand the various hazards of rescuing someone trapped in a grain bin.

“Just the pressure of the corn against you when a person takes a step toward you is intense. It really gives you a better understanding and helps you relate to the difficulties and the technologies involved,” he said. “Up until a couple of months ago, we were using a several pieces of plywood for this. This is good worthwhile training. I have been a firefighter for 28 years and if this had been around years ago, it could have saved some lives.”

Oley Griffith, chief of First Hose Company of Boonsboro and a firefighter for more than 37 years, said getting the chance to simulate an actual grain bin emergency goes a long way to training firefighters that may have to respond to the real thing.

“These entrapments are going to be a more common occurrence, and this is a great opportunity to meet the farmers. Before we had to figure things out and hope they worked. Now, we can get this great technical training,” Griffith said. “Seeing pictures is one thing, but actually having hands-on is a great thing, and this should be an annual refresher for everyone in the fire service. They are telling us things we don’t know.”

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