HOMEWORTH, Ohio — In a matter of seconds, farm accidents can happen and lives can be changed forever.
However, the Homeworth Volunteer Fire Department recently set out to learn how to secure better outcomes when accidents occur, especially in the use of grain bins.
A member of the fire department, Albert Johnson, a dairy farmer by day and volunteer firefighter by night, read a notice for a bin rescue training grant and asked Knox Township trustees to apply for it last fall. Watching more grain bins go up around the area, Johnson saw a real need for the rescue training.
In January, the township was notified that, out of 260 applications nationwide, it had received a grant to pay for a grain tube for training valued at $2,700 and a training conducted by the National Education Center for Agricultural Safety based in Iowa.
Knox Township Trustee Chairman Greg Carver applied for the grant after finding out that from 1964-2005, 64 percent of grain bin entrapments resulted in death.
The number is finally decreasing, he said due to training. In 2009, the number of fatalities was reduced to 42 percent.
“Training is working. However, with increased market prices and bigger farms, firefighters have to be on their toes because it could mean more accidents because so many farmers are trying to produce the grain needed,” Carver said.
He said the grant fit the area perfectly because the area is mainly agricultural.
The Homeworth Fire Department was not alone in the training, which was held April 2 on the Mike Conny farm near Beloit, Ohio. They invited firefighters from Damascus, North Georgetown, Beloit, Winona, Hanoverton, and Washington Township from Stark County to participate in the training.
Now that the Homeworth Volunteer Fire Department is trained, it will be providing training to other departments in the future. They are already working with the Columbiana County Fire Association to schedule a training for the entire county.
In addition, they will be training firefighters and rescue workers in Pennsylvania, all of Ohio and West Virginia.
“You train for fire, you train for car accidents, but there’s not much opportunity to train for farm accidents like this, now we can do that,” Carver said.
After talking to the firefighters, it was clear each shared the same reason for being at the training. They explained that the more training they get to learn how to rescue grain bin entrapments, the more comfortable they become with the job and that will transfer over to keeping a victim calm during an emergency.
Dan Neenan, manager for the National Education Center for Agricultural Safety, said the training gives rescuers the confidence they need to get their jobs done in an emergency.
He said it is not uncommon for a 20-foot cavity to form across a grain bin because of moisture. Too often, a farmer then crawls into the grain bin to get it to fall so that it can be unloaded from the bin. However, when the grain falls, it can come down, trapping a farmer.
Neenan said a farmer using a 10-inch auger, standing in grain, can be pulled to his waist in 12 seconds and the grain can cover their head in as little as 24 seconds.
The rescue. What happens during the rescue is a multi-step process. Once the victim is located in the bin, a round tube is built around them using several panels of the tube.
The tube acts as a stabilizer to stop the grain and the victim has little mobility once it is built. A rope is also tied to the victim if at all possible.
At the same time, the rescuers use a machine like a wet/dry vacuum to suck corn out of the tube to start freeing the victim.
If the victim would be conscious, he would also be using a grain scoop, scooping his way out and handing the grain scoop to the firefighters to be emptied.
In the meantime, the firefighters push back and forth on the tube, so they can move grain without hurting the victim any further.
Eventually, enough grain is removed from the tube surrounding the victim. If the victim is conscious and he is able to get his legs secure, then he is instructed to step onto the lowest ring in the tube.
Once the victim steps onto the lowest ring, the firefighters go to work dismantling the tube so that the victim can be lowered out of the grain bin.
Because the farmer is often working alone when an accident happens, he can be trapped until someone arrives at home.
Neenan said this also makes the first moments when the fire department arrives on scene even more crucial.
On the scene, the fire department is taught is to immediately place a lock on the fuse box that operates grain bin system. Often, the family is trying to help firefighters, but they can do more harm, not only to the victim but the rescue workers, by turning the system on once they are inside the bin. The lock stops that from happening.
In addition to the grain bin entrapment training, firefighters were also trained on how to cut through grain bins to free the victim if necessary.