Cooperative trains emergency workers to respond to grain engulfments

The professionals at the full-service Landmark Services Cooperative in Wisconsin are familiar with the dangers of working in and around grain storage facilities. The knowledge Landmark brings to first responders working in rural communities gives them hands-on training and experience with agricultural emergencies.

To help first responders save lives, Landmark Services Cooperative hosted a grain engulfment rescuer training. The event was designed to give emergency responders the chance to experience grain facility emergencies in a safe, controlled environment.

Participants were from a number of area Wisconsin fire departments including Rio, Columbus, Markesan, Fall River, Cambria, Doylestown and Randolph, as well as a local construction company. They learned techniques for rescuing engulfed victims based on the potential victim's location within the bin and state of consciousness.

Such training is necessary to be sure emergency responders are familiar with the hazards of entering grain bins as well as methods to safely remove victims entrapped in grain, said Matt Solymossy, safety manager for Landmark Services Cooperative.

"Training like this is important because we're seeing larger and larger grain storage every year, and it seems that not only is there an increase in the number of incidences, but also the severity of incidences with grain bin entrapment, Solymossy said.

Becoming trapped in grain is similar to becoming trapped in quicksand, explained Solymossy. The dangers include suffocation or injury from as much as 2,000 pounds of pressure on the victim from the grain.

An important tool in grain engulfment rescues is the cofferdam. The cofferdam consists of multiple metal pieces that slide and lock in place, allowing emergency personnel to safely rescue a potential victim. The cofferdam is a critical element in the rescue as it can prevent additional grain from flowing around the victim while a rescue is underway. Once the cofferdam is assembled around the victim, emergency responders can remove the grain, therefore reducing the pressure on the victim and allowing for safe rescue. Rescues should be performed by trained emergency responders.

Landmark Services Cooperative has cofferdams at each of its grain facility locations for use by emergency responders. Many emergency response departments have cofferdams among their rescue equipment or know the locations of nearby available cofferdams.

In addition to learning how to use the equipment, training provides a helpful opportunity to work with colleagues from other emergency departments in a practice environment, said participant Mark Kenevan, assistant fire chief with the Columbus Fire Department.

"Practice is important because it makes you better in the field if you do face this type of situation down the road, which we hope we never do, Kenevan says. "If we have a rescue situation like this, we'll probably have a couple fire departments work together. So it's great to have the people working together under practice conditions.

Farmers can take steps to prevent grain bin engulfment emergencies, too, Solymossy said. He suggests the following on-farm safety tips for producers that should be shared by retailers and grain handling operations:

  • Never go into the grain bin alone. Always have another person stationed outside the bin to provide assistance and call for help if needed.
  • Never walk on stored grain. "Any time you have stored grain more than waist deep and you're walking on top of it, there's a chance it could collapse and you could become engulfed, Solymossy said.
  • Lock out, tag out. "Make sure that augers and other equipment that move grain inside the bins are de-energized before you enter a grain bin, advised Solymossy.


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