Farm rescue training can save lives

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Forty-four people in Pennsylvania were killed in farm and agricultural-related accidents in 2008 — a sharp increase from previous years.

Such statistics illustrate the need for farm-safety and farm-rescue training for emergency responders, according to an expert in Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences.

Since early 2001, Davis Hill, director of Penn State’s Managing Agricultural Emergencies program, has been training emergency responders from fire-safety programs and emergency medical services to face the challenges of farm-related emergencies.

Farm accidents are different

Hill said many of the responders have skills in managing other common emergencies, but farm trauma emergencies require a delicate approach.

“Farmers can be trapped for hours, and after the body endures trauma for a long period, it attempts to compensate for the injuries,” he said.

“Without proper initial care, the body’s compensatory mechanisms can be overwhelmed, leading to death.”

Hill said with proper care, most people in this situation can survive. However, many deaths and injuries occur when the same techniques used during a fresh accident are applied to an accident in which someone has been trapped for an extensive period.

Different kind of training

The program is designed to prepare responders for these differences.

Statistics show that a majority of farm-related deaths are due to tractor overturns and machinery entanglements.

The farm safety and rescue training program familiarizes emergency responders with these scenarios by contrasting them with typical accidents such as car crashes.

“We teach the differences between a typical rescue, such as extracting an individual from a car, and extracting someone from a tractor,” said Hill.

“How to shut off a farm machine, how to control the power that goes into the machine, and how to quickly find out information about machines and contact the mechanics are just some of the factors we focus on.”

Hill said another issue is environmental hazards on a farm, such as manure and silo gas and grain dust, which can pose a serious threat to a responder’s life.

The program teaches how to safely remove an individual from a silo or grain bin, which can be dangerous without proper training.

Increasing numbers

Since establishing the training classes in 2002, interest in the program has increased with attendance numbers growing from 150 in 2002 to 2,000 in 2008.

“As interest in the program grows, we branch out into new training modules for responders, such as large-animal rescue,” said Hill.

Unique training

“Our method is unique for responders because we go back to the injured person, their injuries and how to care for them — whereas a majority of training programs instead emphasize the techniques of using extraction tools and cutting open cars.

He said no other agricultural safety program exists for emergency medical services and fire-safety responders.

“Recently, one member of the training program encountered a man who had been stuck in a skid steer,” he said.

“The responder had been trained to deal with the issue, and was able to instruct everyone else in the crew to save the man’s life.”

While the program may focus on agriculture and farms in Pennsylvania, it has received recognition for preparing responders for nonfarm industrial emergencies such as machinery entanglements, both within and outside of Pennsylvania.

Successful outcome

Hill said the training has been widely credited for making a difference in the successful outcome of patients involved in farm- and machinery-related injury.

A growing number of documented success stories are a result of the farm and agricultural emergency training that emergency responders have received, he said.

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