Training Preps Grain Bin Rescuers

By CHRIS LUSVARDI | September 28, 2011

Bill Harp travels around the country helping emergency personnel to be prepared to rescue those who become trapped in confined spaces.

Members of Harp’s group, the Safety and Technical Rescue Association train a variety of groups and have participated in rescues around the world.

Emergency responders usually arrive at a scene quickly, but when it comes to grain bin rescues in rural areas, Harp said the needed help can take longer to arrive. So Harp thinks it’s important to not only train members of rural fire departments, but also those who work at places such as grain elevators who could make a difference quickly.

“Survivability is up because of more training, which is encouraging,” said Harp, who is a firefighter in Detroit. “If we don’t do this real-time, scenario-based training, they don’t know what they’re going to do.”

The fire department should be called in to help during certain situations, but Harp said it’s good for farmers and elevators to have basics, including rescue equipment, in place. Companies such as GSI Group in Assumption have been trying to help by getting specialized equipment to would-be rescuers.

Grain bin rescues are just one aspect of farm safety that is highlighted during National Farm Safety and Health Week. The theme is Safety Counts: Your Community Depends On It.

Illinois led the nation last year with 10 grain bin entrapments and five deaths. Nationally, more than 50 men and children were engulfed in grain bins last year, with half ending in fatalities.

Harp was in Decatur this summer at Progress City USA, running a course to train grain facility workers. It was an experience that made those who participated more aware of the dangers they might face and what it is like to become entrapped in a pile of grain.

Robert Billman, who works for Premier Cooperative in Champaign, felt just how a dangerous a situation it can be after he volunteered to be one of those pulled from inside a bin during a training demonstration. Afterward, Billman said it’s best to avoid the situation altogether.

“I’m thinking about not dying,” Billman said. “It’s your job to do stuff and you don’t think about it. You just want to get the job done. By the time you start doing it, it’s too late.”

More work has been happening around bins as farmers grow more corn and hold it longer, said Wayne Bauer, with Star of the West Milling Co. With more work to do, Bauer said the basics are sometimes forgotten.

Those who track grain bin entrapments find preparation can make a difference in saving lives.

“There have been fewer deaths as a percentage of entrapments,” Bauer said. “We’re saving more than 50 percent. We’ve got to get serious about hands-on training.”

Lifelines are in place, and fire departments are better prepared to deal with such incidents, Bauer said.

A zero-entry mentality needs to be in place, meaning not going into a bin unless absolutely necessary and never going in alone, Bauer said.

“A lot of times farmers are working alone,” Harp said. “Nobody is there to help you.”

Becoming trapped in grain is avoidable, said Amy Rademaker, farm safety specialist at Carle Foundation Hospital in Urbana, which is part of the Grain Handling Safety Coalition. The regional group of private and public organizations was formed last year to provide safety training in rural communities.

“Ideally, we’d prefer farmers not enter grain bins at all,” Rademaker said. “But if it’s absolutely necessary, we want to help them be as safe as possible.”

Rescuers need to keep safety foremost as well, Harp said. He encouraged rescuers to work as a team.

Such training has helped keep rescuers safe.

“For the most part, rescuers aren’t dying,” Bauer said

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