In March, Wayne County firefighters rescued a man trapped in a grain bin on a farm south of Centerville, thanks in part to Purdue Extension training.
At the time, about 10 people in the county had been trained in grain bin rescues, estimates Joe Buckler, Boston fire chief and a member of the Richmond Fire Department. Now, that number is closer to 50.
Thirty-seven firefighters representing 11 county departments braved heat and humidity recently to get hands-on practice dealing with grain bin entrapment. This type of farm accident is fatal about half the time, said Wayne County Extension Director Jonathan Ferris.
That's the bad news. The good news is that people can survive even when submerged in grain.
"You have to treat it as if they're alive," Ferris told the Palladium-Item.
Ferris said grain flows like water and can hold the victim as firmly as quicksand.
"If you're buried up to your waist, you can't free yourself," Ferris said.
No one else can free you, either. The pressure of the grain against the body makes it impossible to pull out the victim.
What has to happen, Ferris said, is to get the grain — usually corn or soybeans in Wayne County — around the victim down to about ankle level. That relieves the pressure enough to make it possible to pull the person out of the bin.
If the victim can't be seen, it's necessary to make cuts in the side of the bin to let out grain until the victim is visible. Those cuts also require practice. Done incorrectly, they could create an imbalance that would cause the bin to topple or damage the structure and cause a collapse.
Firefighters practiced using saws on corrugated metal. Once the victim is visible, emergency personnel can build a kind of dam around him or her and bail or suck out the grain until it is about ankle height.
Sheets of plywood — such as those used in the March rescue — can be used to make a dam, but Steve Wettschurack, farm safety specialist with Purdue Extension, showed firefighters a product he said is a better alternative: a tube built from sheets of flexible plastic that link together.
Firefighters at the training practiced putting together a tube around a volunteer "victim" standing in about a foot of corn.
"It got guys in grain," Ferris said. The experience of seeing and feeling how the corn behaved was, to him, one of the most valuable aspects of the training.
The Greens Fork Fire Department purchased one of the tubes a few years ago, and the Northeastern High School FFA just raised enough money to present one to the Fountain City Fire Department. Other county FFAs are trying to do the same for more local departments.
"We hope to get a few more (tubes) and place them strategically in the county," Buckler said.
Buckler, who helped organize the training and was on hand as a helper, is encouraged to see greater numbers of firefighters with grain bin rescue knowledge. More and more farmers are storing grain, he said, increasing the risk of another entrapment.
"If there is another incident ... hopefully people are better prepared," he said.
Doug Jay was happy to make his farm north of Richmond available for the training.
"We hope we never have to have a rescue, but if we do, we'd like to have people trained," Jay said.
"This is one of the most rewarding experiences I've had in 17 years with Extension," Ferris said. "This could really save somebody's life."