“It’s like being in the sand in an hourglass. Once you’re in that flow of corn, you can’t get out,” he said.
Grain bin rescue can be immensely difficult. The only real viable technique is to fit a series of panels together to create a tube around the victim, and then to use a shop vacuum to suck out all of the corn in the tube. The process can take hours.
Once grain is up to someone’s waist, they can’t get out. And even experienced farmers can be surprised by how quickly grain can shift. Last year, an 80-year-old Johnson County farmer died in one of his own bins.
KFD Battalion Chief Chris Linville said the city’s annexation made it imperative for the department to train for grain bin rescues. The Kokomo department has never had a grain bin rescue, he said, but that could change with Kokomo Grain and farms coming into the city.
Indiana Farm Bureau sponsored the class, paying Purdue to put on the seminar for local firefighters, Wettschurack and Linville said.
Realizing the seriousness of the problem has led to a general rethinking of how the U.S. Department of Labor and the Occupational Health and Safety Administration address grain bin deaths.
A proposed 2012 re-write of farm safety rules met strong opposition in Congress from legislators from farm states, who called it an overreach. The proposed rules, which would have banned anyone under 18 from working in a grain silo, were dropped.
Wettschurack said improved Labor Department safety guidelines should completely prevent grain bin deaths, if followed.
“Farmers will tell you different, but I have yet to hear a compelling reason why they leave the unloading auger on when they go into a bin,” he said.
The guidelines state that all power equipment, particularly loaders and augers, should be off before anyone enters a silo. Workers shouldn’t enter a silo without a safety harness and an observer on hand and workers shouldn’t try to dislodge grain caked above head level. The guidelines also suggest testing for the presence of combustible or toxic gases.
Jim Rossman, Kokomo Grain’s safety director, said the company was happy to host the training.
“Kokomo is our first responder, so we wanted to make sure we did what we could to help them find their way around out here, and we wanted to be responsible for our customers, if they ever have an issue in a grain bin,” Rossman said.
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