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Wendy Reuer, Published September 16 2010

Going against the grain: Tube device aids in bin rescues

In less than two seconds, the once-level foundation of grain gave way, and tiny kernels became a huge wave of pressure immobilizing my legs and turning the view of the crowd into a claustrophobic yellow tunnel.

At the Big Iron Farm Show in West Fargo on Wednesday, Michigan firefighter and paramedic Mike Laird used this Forum reporter as his victim. In front of a crowd, he let out the grain from the bottom of a bin, trapping me waist-high in roughly 650 pounds of pressure from the moved grain.

The scenario is similar to hundreds of accidents that have occurred across the country, hurting, sometimes killing farmers trapped in grain bins.

Laird travels around the world in partnership with SATRA (Safety & Technical Rescue Association) to demonstrate GSI’s Res-Q Tube. The tube is a portable device made up of aluminum panels that rescuers insert into the grain to prevent more grain from closing in on a victim while removing the pressure.

Grain bin accidents are not uncommon in this area. A Fairmount, N.D., man was trapped for almost an hour in August. Although that man survived, a 49-year-old Waseca, Minn., farmer, James Eaton, died after he was trapped in a corn bin and rescuers could not reach him for hours.

Laird said a person stuck in grain up to their waist experiences about 650 pounds of pressure in an average 30- to 40-foot grain bin. At chest level, the pressure increases to 950 pounds.

“Every time you take a breath, it gets tighter and tighter,” Laird said.

Laird likens the grain pressure to a boa constrictor, tightening around a trapped victim. Grain bin rescues can be especially difficult for crews as any shift in the grain can cause more pressure on the victim with the possibility of suffocation.

If the victim is conscious, Laird says self rescue is the best, keeping the victim talking and shoveling or vacuuming grain out from around them.

“It reduces the panic. We want to keep talking to them and keep them talking,” he said.

If the victim is unconscious, the panels still work to shield the grain while rescuers pull out the victim.

When the grain surrounded my legs, I was still conscious and a convenient shop vacuum was nearby. After I was immobilized by the grain shift, in just two to three minutes, the rescuers (volunteers pulled off the street) had the tube in place and a vacuum in my hands to suck off the grain.

Within four minutes, I was out of the tube.

Randy Schmidt, the fire chief in Sabin, Minn., says fire departments, especially those in rural areas, should have this type of grain bin training or equipment.

“It was one of the reasons I stopped out today. Especially with more corn coming into this area,” Schmidt said. “The corn is coming in wet and it’s bridging; those bins can be very dangerous.”

His son, Scott Schmidt, helped in the rescue demonstration, saying he was impressed at how easily the tube can work.

Jimmy Haberman, a seed sales manager with Minn-Kota Ag Products, said the tube is definitely something he would like to see brought to farms and agriculture businesses.

“It’s really very simple for local farmers to have. It all comes in pieces, they can just throw it anywhere on the trucks,” Haberman said. “It doesn’t take much and (accidents) can happen so fast. Seconds count when that stuff happens.”

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Readers can reach Forum reporter Wendy Reuer at (701) 241-5530