Becoming trapped in a grain bin is fatal over half the time. What you decide to do in the first 10 minutes after finding someone trapped may save a life. If you decide to do the wrong things, you may just make the situation worse.
In the first 10 minutes, you should make sure the augur is turned off, phone for help, and be ready to relay information to 911. Don’t attempt any other actions.
In most cases, the pressure of the corn or soybeans against the trapped person will make it impossible for you to extricate him yourself. If you try, you could also need to be rescued. If someone is mid-thigh deep in grain, or deeper, only a trained rescue crew can get him out of his predicament safely. “A 150 pound person who is in grain up to his stomach, for example, will need 325 pounds of force to extricate him,” explained Davis Hill, PSU Extension, Director of the PAgricultural Rescue Training Program.
Most grain bin fatalities occur when the person becomes engulfed (buried) in the grain and inhales particles of corn and soybeans that clog his airways, suffocating him. A hat placed over the face may help to buy some additional time until rescue crews arrive. It is possible for him to go from being trapped to being engulfed in a split second, if more of the grain gives way beneath his feet. In one reported case, according to Hill, a subject who was engulfed in grain for 2 1/2 hours survived by covering the entirety of his nose and mouth with a hat and assuming a fetal position.
The first to arrive in response to your call will be the police officers, since they’re already on the road. Next will be the fire chief, who travels ahead of the crew in a private vehicle. He’ll look over the situation, size it up, and figure out a plan of action. When the fire crew arrives, they’ll start getting together the needed apparatus.
For the actual rescue, though, you’ll likely need to wait a little longer. “Every county has technical rescue teams. Because they may be coming from the other end of the county, they may take as much as an hour to get there,” noted Hill.
The rescue team will work from a platform, with a full body harness and a lifeline on each rescuer, so they don’t get caught if more of the surface gives way. Panel by panel, fire crew members will bring the pieces of a rescue tube to the rescuers in the bin. The panels slide together for a tight fit. Pushed into the grain, the panels will form a tube around the trapped person.
The purpose of the rescue tube is to remove the pressure of the huge amount of grain in the bin on the trapped person’s body. Once the rescue panels are put together, rescuers use a small augur to empty the grain out of the rescue tube into the larger bin. Now a person who is young and fit may be able to climb out under his own power, using the handles on the inside of the panels as steps.
An older person with chronic health conditions would be put on a stretcher, pulled out through the top hole of the bin using strategically placed ropes, and lowered down the side of the bin. Paramedics then monitor his condition as they speed him to the hospital for the evaluation of any crush injuries.
One of the biggest potential problems is loss of normal blood circulation to the legs due to the pressure of the grain. Moving the muscles in the feet and toes can keep circulation going despite that pressure, until the person is rescued. Encourage this, if you can be heard.
The lifelines can be attached to an aerial fire truck, or they can be attached to the handle of a telescopic handler, a piece of equipment found on many farms.
How long should all this take? It depends. At worst, due to a mismanaged rescue, “I heard a report of an incident several years ago where a person was caught in a bin, and it took 5 hours to get him out. At one point, there were 25 people inside the bin, a dangerous situation, and not a very sound one,” stated Hill
To avoid situations like this, the crews from two nearby volunteer fire companies came to Ag Progress Days to train how to do grain bin rescues properly. “It should take less than an hour to an hour and a half to get the trapped person out, with a trained crew. There should not be a lot of people in the bin,” added Hill.
The demonstration was conducted on a truck- mounted small version of a grain bin, built by PSU College of Agricultural Engineering students. “A year ago this was just a concept.” The small bin, which can travel around the state, provides a dramatic farm safety demonstration, as well as training for rescue crews.
To prevent the need for a grain bin rescue on your farm:
- Store only grain that is in good condition
- Keep the ventilation system going to control the moisture, so the grain stays in good condition.
- Remove the phrase “Walking down the grain,” from your vocabulary. This is done when the grain stops unloading through the augur, and the operator goes into the bin with a metal rod to break up grain clumps that could be stopping the flow, an extremely risky and dangerous process. There could be cavities beneath the grain surface that no one can see. In the blink of an eye, you can fall through the surface into a cavity and become trapped or engulfed.
- If, for some reason, you believe you must enter the bin, first lock up the loading augur. In addition, have a second person on site who can summon help quickly if you get into trouble, and wear a full body harness with a lifeline attached.
There are ways of putting anchor points and a lifeline system into your grain bin in advance. Being prepared is always the best option. For more information, please contact Davis E. Hill, PSU Extension, firstname.lastname@example.org , 814-865-2808.