Device helps rescue people from grain in bins

6/30/2013 3:15 PM
By Associated Press

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. (AP) — Bloomington city firefighters can't remember a time they've ever had to save a person sucked into a grain bin.

It's still a scary thought. Often compared to sinking in quicksand, a farmer can find all sorts of danger in a container filled with corn or soybeans. Within 22 seconds of stepping into a grain silo, a person can become completely immersed.

The department accepted a gift Thursday of a "Great Wall of Rescue" from the Monroe County Farm Bureau, a set of metal panels that encircle a victim of an entrapment. The person is harnessed to the rescue equipment while rescuers dig at the material surrounding them, The Herald-Times reported ( ).

The department is grateful, because it expands the toolbox of Engine 1, the focal point of its tactical rescue unit. The only question is whether the Bloomington Fire Department will ever use it in a city with no grain silos.

But the department could be asked to respond to other parts of the county or state where such accidents are more likely to occur.

"That's not to say it will happen," Sgt. Brandon Hudson said, "but this is about being proactive rather than reactive."

Hudson said city firefighters have been participating in training sessions on responding to an accident in a grain bin, part of a larger effort to promote awareness about its dangers. From 1964 to 2008, almost three-quarters of all silo entrapment cases resulted in suffocation and death. Indiana has had the highest number of storage bin incidents in the country since 1964, according to a Purdue University study, with 125 during through 2012.

Last year, Indiana had six storage bin entrapments, more than any other state.

Daniel Philpott, deputy chief for the Eastern Greene County Volunteer Fire Department, recalls a series of grain bin accidents in the area a few years ago. They happened when farmers working in silos stepped on the hard crusts that had formed on top of grain that was stored while wet. The crusts would break down, trapping the farmers who fell in.

And on June 19, a Veedersburg man was killed in a grain bin accident at a grain elevator in Fountain County.

A 59-year-old employee of Stone Bluff Elevator was pronounced dead on the scene after emergency personnel worked five hours to free him from the grain hopper where he became trapped and was asphyxiated. The man was loading soybeans into a semitrailer and attempted to dislodge a grain clog.

Emergency workers from several counties responded to the accident, according to media reports. Among the special equipment they used in attempting to rescue the man was a "grain sleeve" brought by a rural fire department, which was assembled and placed around the man so crushing grain could be removed from around his body, alleviating pressure.

Bryan Woodall, chief of the Fairplay Grant Fire Protection Territory based in the Greene County farming town Switz City, said that a few years ago, the local Pioneer Seed Co. provided training for and donated a grain tube, a partitioned containment barrier like the "Great Wall," that acts as a temporary wall around a partially buried victim to keep the grain's crushing pressure at bay.

"It's a lightweight, plastic polymer material, and you hook the pieces together, then you slide it around the victim and it keeps the grain back to keep the pressure off," he explained. "When there's a collapse in a grain bin like that, it's the pressure that suffocates you or crushes your chest."

He said training was offered to all fire departments in the county, "and we have it ready and available to anyone that needs it," Woodall said.

He said rescuers were called to a collapse of a bin south of Newberry not long ago. By the time rescuers arrived with the grain tube, the injured man had been removed.


Information from: The Herald Times,

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