Pa. fire department rescues life of Erie County farmer trapped in bin


UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — The proper response to farm emergencies is often a bit different than that to other crises, and Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences offers a special training course to prepare likely responders.

Recent training

That ag-rescue training recently was credited with saving another life — the fifth in recent years — according to Davis Hill, director of the Managing Agricultural Emergencies program provided by Penn State Cooperative Extension.

In the most recent incident, a man was trapped in a grain bin near Erie. “What could have ended in a tragedy, with multiple deaths, came to a happy ending on the Erie County farm,” Hill said.

While unloading corn from a bin, operators noticed material was not flowing properly from the unloading auger. One of them entered the bin and quickly became trapped.

Accidents happen

When three co-workers entered to help him, more corn was broken free and buried the first operator completely. The more his co-workers dug, the worse the situation became. With the pressure exerted on the operator’s body, especially his chest cavity, breathing became progressively more difficult.

“Luckily, he was not working alone, and 911 was called when it became apparent that help was going to be needed,” Hill said. “When fire and emergency units arrived on the scene, they gained access to the trapped patient and began providing oxygen while efforts were started to try to relieve the pressure exerted by the corn.”

During this process, the fire chief who was in charge at the scene dispatched an ag-rescue team from two neighboring communities, Hill noted.

“Coincidentally, it was just last fall when members of the East Springfield and the Cranesville fire companies completed a series of PAgricultural Rescue training programs offered by Penn State,” he explained.
“In fact, the last class they completed was one on agricultural confined spaces, which included a simulated rescue of this instructor from a grain bin that was two-thirds full of corn grain.” East Springfield Fire Chief Chad Edwards remembers the dire situation well.

Action taken

Their rescuers’ decisive actions involved shutting off the utilities to the bin and simultaneously cutting the sides of the bin to quickly remove the corn that was engulfing the patient and causing his breathing difficulties.

Once they removed enough grain, they were able to secure him to a basket and bring him out through the side of the bin. He was treated and released from the hospital that same day.

“When we train farm family members or emergency responders how to manage emergencies on the farm, we really hope that training will not have to be used, but it warms our heart beyond belief when we hear that our training played a role in saving a life,” Hill said.


These incidents show the importance of the farm-safety funding that has been provided by the state Department of Agriculture over the past several years, according to Hill. That funding was used to develop the training program that the East Springfield and Cranesville firefighters took.

The funding also covered at least part of the cost of delivering that program to them and other firefighters across the state. But continued funding is in jeopardy due to state budget pressures.

“Training like this is not offered through the normal training venues available to emergency responders,” Hill said. “Clearly the funding pays tremendous dividends, especially when you have a successful rescue like the one that recently occurred in Erie County. For this investment, we are able to train more than 2,000 emergency responders and hundreds of youths in various farm-safety efforts.”


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