Much of the Iowa corn crop that’s being harvested this fall will stored somewhere — most likely in large, round, metal bins. While the bins are important to the farming operation, they can also be dangerous and being trapped in one often ends in death. A study by Purdue University shows the overall death rate from accidents on American farms has been declining, but the number of deaths from grain bin entrapments has held steady — hitting an all time high of 51 in 2010.
Dan Neenan, the Director of the National Education Center for Agricultural Safety based in Peosta, conducts rescue training all around the state. During a recent training session at Kirkwood Community College in Cedar Rapids, Neenan explained entrapment occurs when victims are partially submerged, engulfment occurs when they are buried by the grain.
He says teaching emergency responders how to save them takes practice and patience “We’re going to do a lot of work with them with the grain-rescue tubes and the different ways for getting the grain out of the tube in the one day procedure ,” Nenan says.
He says firefighters will have to follow this training with work on using ropes and lifting out victims. “Because once we get them out from being trapped, we are going to need to get them out of the bin,” Neenan explains. “And that’s going to be accomplished one of two ways — cutting a hole into the side of the bin to be able to get them out, or using a ladder rescue truck to bring them up to the top of the bin and out.”
Dan Neenan credits the Iowa Volunteer Firefighters Training fund with providing not only money but in-kind contributions of land, equipment and personnel. He explains that at least 12 people from a department sign up, the instruction is free and he travels to their site. “We do a tractor rollover program, a combine auger rescue program, the grain bin and then we also have a brand new confined space manure pit rescue simulator,” according to Neenan.
Large Agricultural companies have come forward this year with donations of equipment. Du Pont Pioneer will outfit 16 departments from Riceville in North Iowa to Mount Pleasant in the Southeast part of the State. Several of Iowa’s ethanol plants have made similar gestures. Sometimes help comes from families including Kevin Larson‘s.
His father was a trustee in Story County and as part of his job maintained and supervised the purchase of equipment for the firefighters in Lafayette township. “Because he was a farmer and had been involved as a trustee, after he passed away my mother thought it would be a good idea to donate one of these grain rescue systems to our local fire department. Hoping that they never have to use it, but they’d have it if they needed it,” Larson says.
Neenan says that kind cooperation between farmers, their neighbors and agricultural companies is imperative in the fight to keep injuries and deaths at a minimum. Ropes and harnesses for grain rescue can cost seven-thousand dollars for each department. It’s not only the equipment that’s important, but Neenan says it’s important to know how to properly use the gear. “It’s important to have people who understand ‘what are the dangers of entering in?’ If the bin already engulfed one person, there’s a good chance we could engulf another,” Neenan says.
Neenan says There are many ways to help firefighters, as a gesture as small as donating a few bucks at a fireman’s breakfast or soup supper could mean the difference of being rescue ready or not fully equipped when the emergency call comes.