Nominate your fire department to win a grain rescue tube

Westphalia Fire Dept. Wins Grain Bin Rescue Tube

When Westphalia, KS Fire Chief, Kenton Ludolph, nominated his station to win grain bin rescue training and a rescue tube, he thought his small, volunteer fire department didn’t stand a chance.      

“When I learned we had won, I just couldn’t believe it,” says Fire Chief Ludolph. “This is great news for the stations in our district and the ag communities we serve.”      

During Grain Bin Safety Week’s inaugural year in 2014, Nationwide and the National Education Center for Agricultural Safety (NECAS) partnered to develop Nominate Your Fire Department Contest, which awarded one nominated fire department or emergency rescue team with a grain bin rescue tube and six hours of training in specialized grain bin rescue techniques.

The tube, valued at $2,600, was donated by KC Supply Co.

In the past 50 years, more than 900 cases of grain engulfment have been reported with a fatality rate of 62%. In a matter of seconds, a person can become helplessly trapped. A single entrapment can result in multiple fatalities when others who are untrained attempt to rescue and become victims as well.

Volunteer firefighters, like those at Westphalia, are often a rural area’s first and only line of defense. Unfortunately, many lack the specialized rescue techniques and equipment necessary for a successful bin rescue.  

“We’re a very small town with very limited resources,” says Fire Chief Ludolph. “We wouldn’t have gotten a tube any other way, period.” 

Thirty-six entries from 14 states were received in the contest’s first year. The winner was chosen based on:

  • Potential impact and benefit grain entrapment training and rescue tube will have on the rural community and local fire department or emergency rescue team
  • Ability to share the tube and training with nearby fire departments or emergency rescue teams

On Saturday, August 2, 2014, EMS and fire personnel from Westphalia and surrounding stations came together to receive their rescue tube and the hands-on training necessary to use it as part of an emergency rescue.  

Dan Neenan, director of NECAS, traveled from Peosta, IA to Westphalia with a state-of-the-art grain entrapment simulator. Loaded on a 20-foot trailer and able to hold 180 bushels of grain, the simulator is the perfect training ground.

The all-day event consisted of a 90-minute classroom session followed by hands-on grain bin rescue simulations performed by attending EMS and fire personnel. Topics included grain bin hazards, lockout/tagout, bin entry, rescue and extraction methods, equipment, cutting the bin, compartment syndrome and more.    

The Westphalia fire chief – wearing a safety harness and attached to a safety line – was the first of several to be purposely trapped up to the waist in grain provided by LeRoy Co-op.

“When the grain began to flow, I was surprised how quickly and easily I sank,” says Fire Chief Ludolph. “Before I knew it, I was unable to move or pull myself free.” 

The only reason why he didn’t sink further was because the grain flow had been shut off. Had this been a real emergency, the victim could have become fully engulfed. 

If you’re outside a bin when someone you’re working with becomes entrapped, the first thing you should do is shut off the flow of the grain.

For the next 30 minutes, two rescuers – under the tutelage of NECAS and also wearing harnesses attached to safety lines – assembled a 4-panel rescue tube around the chief and used specialized techniques to free him. Each panel or section acts like a shield so that the grain, which is pressing against the victim, can be removed.

“You can’t just pull the victim out,” says Dan Neenan of NECAS. “The amount of force required to pull somebody out of non-flowing grain would cause serious bodily injury or death to the victim.”    

The only way to safely remove someone trapped in a grain bin is to remove the grain around the person’s body.

“You’ve got to dig them out,” says Dan.

Firefighters, farmers and elevator workers should keep a realistic view to the dangers of grain bins and not get a false sense of security thinking a rescue tube makes grain bins any less dangerous. EMS and fire personnel should continue to train and work with local farmers and elevator workers to develop a preplan should an entrapment occur. And farmers and elevator workers should focus on proper grain management  to keep grain flowing and only enter a bin after all precautions have been taken.

“We’re very thankful to Nationwide and NECAS for the rescue tube and training we received,” says Fire Chief Ludolph. “If it saves just one life, it was well worth it.”

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