Event focuses on practicing safety while in grain bins

September 7, 2018

Area farmers and first responders came together at the Fremont Fire Department for a workshop focused on promoting grain bin safety, as well as potentially lifesaving techniques when someone does become trapped in a silo.

The workshop was led by Central Valley Ag Safety Director Scott Bousquet and Director of Emergency Rope Rescue Services Steve Wangler.

The theme of the night was “seconds count,” with the pair focusing on safeguards to avoid becoming engulfed in grain while inside of a bin, as well as strategies for first responders when attempting to rescue people who have become trapped.

Bousquet kicked off the workshop by explaining why individuals go into grain bins in the first place.

“It’s all about grain condition, if it goes out of condition in the bin inevitably it starts to clump or it starts to crust on a layer on top of the bin,” he said. “Those clumps go down when you go to discharge and they plug up your auger, and now you’re not discharging grain.”

While grain condition plays an integral role in why accidents happen, it’s the often ill-prepared response to clumped and crusted grain that leads to accidents.

“The cure that everyone uses is they step in the grain with a long pole, with the auger still running, and they poke at it until it starts to flow,” Bousquet said. “That is the same story you hear over and over and over.”

While inside the grain bin, one slip, trip or breaking of crusted grain can quickly lead to a dangerous situation for the individual involved.

“Grain flows out of a bin from the top down, so it’s like quicksand,” Bousquet said. “If you get buried in flowing grain to your knees you will not be able to get yourself out and you will continue to go down.”

According to Bousquet several simple measures can be taken to avoid becoming trapped while attempting to create grain flow while inside a bin.

“You need to wear a harness at all times, whenever you are in a bin,” he said. “Not a rope tied to your belt loop, a full body harness that is anchored to a secure point outside of the bin.”

Another integral practice, according to Bousquet, seems incredibly simple but is often overlooked.

“The one that would really save a lot of lives is just having a second person there to be an observer at the door,” he said. “Somebody gets in trouble, you can call for help.”

While using safe techniques to avoid becoming trapped in a grain bin are best-practice, they are not foolproof according to Bousquet.

That is where Wangler came in to describe some of the ways the Central Valley Ag Rope Rescue Services attempt to safely rescue individuals who do become trapped in a bin.

And with the nature of how grain bins operate, pushing grain from the top down, allowing as few people as possible inside the bin is integral.

“The worst thing you can do is show up on the scene and everybody grabs a shovel and jumps in the bin, because what happens?” Wangler said. “It pushes the grain down and now that person is completely buried.”

Wangler also gave some insight into a specific piece of equipment used to extract people from grain bins — known as a cofferdam.

A cofferdam is a series of planks made from lightweight metal or plastic that can be slid down around the victim forming a barrier.

Once all of the planks are connected, creating a tube in which the victim is located, rescuers can then begin extracting the grain from around the victim within the cofferdam.

Wangler recommended, in an ideal scenario, a two-person rescue team going into the bin initially.

“The less people you have inside the bin, the better you are going to be,” he said. “So if you had a fireman who knew how to work that cofferdam and an EMT to provide medical services that is exactly what I would have until more help comes.”

Some other tips for general grain bin safety include:

1. Keep children out of grain bins at all times.

2. Lock out the control circuit before entering a bin, whether or not grain is flowing.

3. Have another person there when you enter a grain bin, and enter with a rope and safety harness.

4. Don’t count on someone outside the bin to hear your shouted instructions. Equipment noise may block out your calls for help.

5. If you become trapped in a bin of flowing grain with nothing to hold onto but you are still able to walk, stay near the outside wall. Keep walking until the bin is empty or grain flow stops. If you are covered by flowing grain, cup your hands over your mouth, and take short breaths until help arrives.

6. If another person becomes submerged in grain, assume he is alive and begin rescue operations immediately.

7. Never attempt a rescue by going into the grain yourself. Call 911.

The grain bin safety workshop was sponsored by Farm Bureau Financial Service Agent Sherry Leriger and Central Valley Ag. With a free dinner provided by Dodge County Farm Bureau and First National Bank.

Other sponsors included Butler Ag, John Deere, Titan, Johnson Cycle, Platte Valley Ag, and Chief.

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