Safety First: Crews Rescue Man From Grain Bin Entrapment Near Pierre
for Tri-State Livestock News
Pierre Fire Chief Ian Paul got the dispatch on March 6th about 4 pm: a man was reported to be trapped in a grain bin about thirty miles south/southeast of Pierre, SD. Pierre rescue crews and other neighboring first responders found a man trapped mid-torso or higher in a twenty thousand bushel bin of corn.
Fortunately, there were other people working on the farm with and around this gentleman when he entered the bin who were able to call for help and secure a rope around him to prevent him from sinking below the surface of the corn. Pierre Rural Fire Department, Harrold Fire Department and the Agtegra Technical Rescue Team from Highmore joined the Pierre Fire and Rescue Team in their efforts.
“Fire and Rescue made entry into the bin and began to use our grain entrapment rescue tube to build a wall around the victim,” Paul said. “This is to prevent further grain from coming down on top of the victim.”
The grain entrapment rescue tube is a patented device consisting of several curved sheets of metal that can be pushed into the grain around an entrapment victim to form a tube around him. This reduces the risk of further engulfment and allows rescuers to remove the grain from inside the tube to release the victim.
The corn in this bin was at an angle because the farmer was in the process of emptying the bin. The bin was still about three-fourths full, and the victim was stuck in a spot where there was a lot of corn uphill from him that kept avalanching down, frustrating the rescuers’ efforts to move it away from his body. Crew members carefully cut holes in the bin and once the corn was allowed to flow out and away from the victim they were able to get him out.
“We were able to lower the grain around the victim to waist level,” Paul said. “However, he was still stuck and at that point the grain started coming back up. We built a second wall around him with more tubing but it still wasn’t working. The decision was made at that point to cut holes in the bin opposite the victim to remove grain from the bin. We coordinated the release of grain carefully between crew members outside the bin and crew members inside. When we were finally able to get the victim free we inserted a “Stokes Basket” through the hole in the bin to remove the victim, and he was transported to the Pierre Hospital for treatment of non-life threatening injuries and released the same day.”
Fire Chief Paul said that the assistance rendered by the Agtegra team was greatly appreciated, and their level of training and experience was extremely valuable. The entire process took between four and five hours.
Agtegra’s Technical Rescue Team has thirty-six members spread out over Agtegra territory: From Berlin, ND on the north end to Stickney, SD at the south, from McLaughlin, SD to the west to Willow Lake, SD in the east. They have five rescue trailers equipped with grain rescue tubes and other gear; two of the trailers are located in Aberdeen, SD, one in Ipswich, one at Highmore and one in Huron.
“All of our team members are level one high angle rope rescue trained,” said Cody Bonn, Emergency Coordinator for Agtegra. “This is a forty hour certification course. Some of our members have completed level two training, which is an additional forty hours, and two of our members are trainer certified. They have to recertify every two years.”
“If anyone gets stuck in grain, the first step is to call 911 to get deployable resources to the scene,” Bonn said. “Know where the victim is located and if they have a harness and safety line. Before anyone else enters the bin, make sure it is de-energized: all power needs to be shut off to all equipment in and around the bin including fans, augers, conveyors, etc. Check the grain to make sure that there is a safe oxygen level in the bin and to detect the presence of toxins such as Phosphine gas. Once the bin is determined to be safe, first responders can locate the victim and, if possible, get him in a harness with a rope attached so his body can’t be engulfed further. Use grain rescue tubes to build a dam around the victim and start bucketing the grain out of the area inside the safety tube to create a void. You can use a coffee can, a hard hat, a shovel, or whatever. Once you get the tubes established, move them lower and lower in the grain until you can finally get the victim out. The grain around the victim creates so much pressure that they can’t pull themselves out whether they are conscious or unconscious. The only way to get them out is to get the grain moved away from their body.”
Bonn said that in the last nine years Agtegra’s Technical Rescue Team has been called to roughly half a dozen entrapment situations.
“The majority of people who get trapped in grain are people who have been doing this for years,” he said. “They might’ve done it a thousand times and it never happened, so they think it’s not going to happen.”
That slim chance, though, can have a huge impact on a victim’s family and community. Most situations when someone gets buried in grain do not end well.
Bonn encourages farmers to keep basic grain bin safety rules in mind, especially this year with a lot of grain being wetter than usual when it went into bins.
“Never enter a bin that has bridged or caked grain in it,” he said. “Bridged grain means that after you’ve taken some out the bin level at the top hasn’t changed. Never poke at the sides to get it to fall down. A lot of grain is moldy because it was binned wet this year: make sure the air is safe before entering the bin. Make sure that all equipment is shut off and the power to it is disconnected before you enter a bin. Make sure you have a spotter and wear a harness and a lifeline. Make sure people know you’re in there before you enter a bin.”
Ian Paul said that his rescue team had similar training to Agtegra’s team.
“We have the same equipment but they have a lot more expertise,” he said. “A lot of fire departments have some training for grain bin extrication. In twenty years this is the first time I’ve been part of a live rescue. Thankfully this time we had a good outcome.”