Shin-deep in corn, a group of firefighters were sweating Wednesday, struggling to set up a rescue tube around one of their “trapped” colleagues.
It wasn’t easy, even standing on dry corn in the back of an open-roofed semi-trailer on a back lot at Kokomo Grain.
“Guys were out here yesterday in that same spot, so the corn is probably compacted there,” offered Purdue University Farm Accident Rescue Instructor Steve Wettschurack. “Try moving to another spot.”
There was training in using a Saws-all to cut through corrugated bin material and classroom instruction, but the one thing the firefighters couldn’t do Wednesday was recreate a real situation with someone trapped and sinking in moldy, crusted corn inside a dark silo with time quickly running out.
In 2010, at least 26 U.S. workers were killed in grain engulfments, the highest number on record.
In July, a farm worker was killed in Fountain County after becoming stuck in grain. Rescuers tried to save him but were unable to get him out in time.
It’s a terrible death, and according to Purdue University research, about 62 percent of workers who become stuck in grain end up dying. Overall, workplace deaths have been declining for years, but not grain bin deaths.
“It’s mainly just complacency that does it,” said Wettschurack, who taught a three-day training course last week for the Kokomo Fire Department and four area volunteer departments.“It’s guys who say, ‘I’ve done this a thousand times; it will be fine.’”
Grain can form crusts and stick to the sides of grain bins, and sometimes it’s necessary to manually break up the grain to get it to properly flow down an unloading auger.
Workers can get careless and enter a silo while the auger is still running and get sucked down with the corn, Wettschurack said.