People who have seen the 2019 film “Silo” understand how quickly things go wrong around grain bins and the complicated, interpersonal dynamics that can flare up in a crisis.
In one scene, while the character Cody is mostly submerged in a corn bin, firefighters from two fire departments - one public and one volunteer - get into a shouting match, which only ends when Cody’s panic-stricken mother intervenes.
It’s certainly plausible an entrapment incident could evolve like that. How to avoid it?
First, there’s prevention – Cody, and aging farmhand Sutter before him, went into the bin without harnesses. When prevention fails, there’s rescue training.
From 1962 to 2020 there were 1,298 documented cases of grain entrapment in the United States, according to data compiled by Purdue University. Six of those were in Georgia, which might seem like a small number, unless your family is connected to one of those cases.
Then, the only thing that matters is whether the victim survived. Statistically, about half the time they do not.
Northeast Georgia first responders got a detailed view of the hazards of working in and around grain bins and grain transport machinery, as well as what to do if someone becomes entrapped in the stored grain, during training this winter at Franklin County High School.
Aside from entrapment, hazards associated with grain storage include dust-related explosions, falls and machinery entanglements.
“There is nothing quick about this, and there is nothing easy about it,” said Brian Robinson, the state training coordinator for the Tennessee Association of Rescue Squads (TNARS).
Robinson led the Feb. 5 training planned by Georgia Farm Bureau Young Farmer Committee member Colt Hart, a volunteer firefighter who had been through TNARS training on other topics.
Hart saw a clear need for this type of training.
“There’re a lot of grain bins around,” Hart said. “There are kids around grain bins, people around grain bins. I could just see a need. Not having any training, we could see a need for training. There’re feed mills all around, there’re chicken mills all around, there’re chicken houses all around. You never know what will happen. We’re training for that occasion, and if it comes, we’ll be ready.”
In the classroom portion of the training, Robinson reviewed types of equipment associated with grain storage and transport, the hazards that come with them and considerations for executing rescues.
“It’s very important because, while it’s not a very common occurrence, when it does happen, it’s very serious,” Robinson said. “Grain bin rescue is something that takes specialized training and specialized equipment. There’re a lot of different points to that. No. 1 is the training, No. 2 is the equipment, No. 3 is just working together. I’m pretty big about the agricultural side, the educational side, and the first responders' side working together, because that’s what it takes to solve some of these problems.”
The hands-on training used a grain trailer full of corn to simulate a bin. Participants took turns partially immersing themselves in the corn and allowing others in the group to practice extracting them. Rescuers, who were harnessed and connected to safety ropes, used rescue tubes that isolate the entrapped person. Once the tube, which comes in multiple varieties, is placed around the victim, the team can remove the grain inside the tube to ultimately free the trapped person.
Robinson emphasized the value of information to be gained from anyone on site, including minors, who in some cases may know things about farm equipment that the first responder does not.
Robinson says one first-responder mantra is “time is tissue,” meaning the victim has an increasing likelihood of a progressively serious injury or death the longer a rescue takes. With many farm incidents, it takes rescue workers longer to get to the accident scene because the farms are in remote locations.
“I think this class could be taught in several places throughout the state,” Hart said. “More people need to be aware of this. There are a lot of things a lot of people could take back from this class.”
The film “Silo” may be viewed on multiple streaming platforms. Learn more at www.silothefilm.com.
On the Clock
When someone is trapped in a grain bin & an auger is turned on:
2 seconds – time person in a bin has to react
4 seconds – person is trapped
8 seconds – person is fully covered
20 seconds - suffocation begins
Source: Tennessee Association of Rescue Squads
Grain bin safety tips
• When possible, stay out of the bin.
• Do not go into a grain bin alone! There should be a minimum of three people: two at the top of the bin & one on the ground.
• Use a body harness securely roped from above. Have someone to keep tension in the rope.
• Shut down grain-moving equipment like augers. Turn off their power source.
• Have an emergency response plan. Educate farm personnel whom to call for help.
Source: National Feed & Grain Association. For more information visit www.ngfa.org/safety .