Bridgeville, Del., firefighters win bin silo rescue aids
BRIDGEVILLE, Del. (Sept. 5, 2017) — It’s a rare occurrence in his area, but Buddy Willey said he remembers a recent incident where a farmer in a neighboring fire district was climbing into a grain bin when a rope or ladder he was using snapped, and he tumbled into a massive, unstable well of grain with no way out.
“Most family farms, you’re by yourself, and you’re not missed until it’s supper time and you don’t show up,” he said.
The farmer was ultimately saved. But, statistically, grain entrapment is just as likely to be fatal.
It’s why the Bridgeville Volunteer Fire Department recently entered a contest to receive equipment and grain bin training from the National Education Center for Agricultural Safety and several other sponsors, including the Nationwide insurance company.
Out of more than 1,000 nominations, Bridgeville was one of 32 fire departments in 15 states to receive training and a free grain rescue tube.
About 15 to 20 members of the department participated in the Aug. 13 training, said Willey, the department’s deputy chief and a farm technician at the University of Delaware.
In the training, firefighters were instructed on how to identity hazards associated with confined space work, procedures for securing dangerous bin-related machinery, monitoring air quality in confined spaces, entering a grain bin and pulling someone from it.
Getting into a bin to save someone isn’t a simple process, he said. The circular bins generally don’t provide easy anchor points.
“They’re designed to hold grain, and they do that well. But outside of that, they don’t do anything well,” he said.
The technical process of entering a bin is difficult, and if it’s done poorly, it can imperil a rescue effort and endanger the firefighters as well.
The department was also given a grain tube, which can cost anywhere between $2,000 and $6,000, Willey said.
Because grain bins have such small openings, the tube must be assembled around the person before it can be removed with them inside.
Time can be a constraint as well. If a victim is completely submerged, his or her breath can become a problem, Willey said.
The humidity can cause the grain to expand, which can make it even harder for a person to breath.
It may also be necessary to evacuate some or all of the grain by strategically cutting holes into the bin, he said.
Where and how that’s done is important because if it’s done poorly, it can lead to the bin’s collapse.
Firefighters were taught how to make those cuts.
They were also placed in smaller, simulated grain bins to practice extractions.
“It was really eye-opening,” said Hunter Blake, a junior firefighter, according to Nationwide. “You can’t really brainstorm how the pressure is going to feel unless you feel it.”
Purdue University studies confined space farm injuries and fatalities, most of which are due to grain entrapment.
In 2016, there were nearly 30 documented cases of grain entrapment nationwide. Eleven were fatal. Most incidents occurred in the Midwest, though one was in New Jersey.
“Out-of-condition grain continues to be the most significant contributing factor,” the university’s 2016 report said. “Vertical and horizontal crusting that leads to difficulty in removing residual grain was frequently identified in case reports.”
It’s much less likely to happen in Delmarva, but with so many farms around, it’s important the department receive training, Willey said.
Nationwide said one of its past winners, the Westphalia Fire Department in Kansas, got to use its awarded equipment in a successful rescue in 2015.
“This is what we signed up for as firefighters,” Willey said. “We’re very thankful to all the sponsors who made the training available. … I hope it’s also some training that we never have to use.”
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