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Arkansas officials create grain bin rescue unit

Local grain bin entrapment rescue unit to serve Jackson County, Ark.

Whitney Haigwood

October 17, 2022

4 Min Read
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Governing officials in Jackson County and Newport, Ark. cooperate to establish a grain bin entrapment rescue unit that will serve the surrounding area.Whitney Haigwood

Grain bin entrapment is a stark reality in agriculture. Even with strict preventative safety measures, accidents happen. Entrapment emergencies call for trained professionals with specialized equipment.

In northeast Arkansas, a community has joined forces to establish a grain bin entrapment rescue unit. The program is under development and will launch soon to serve Jackson County and neighboring counties in the state.

Safety Awareness

Tommy Young serves as District 2 Justice of the Peace and Finance Chairman of the Jackson County Quorum Court. He is also a row crop producer in the county.

Some time ago, Young became more aware of grain bin entrapment while attending a national ag convention. While there, he watched the film “Silo.” He returned home and started the conversation about establishing a grain bin rescue unit in his local farming community.

“Over the past 25 years there has been an explosion of grain bin installments in our area of the state, increasing the odds of an accident,” Young said.  “The closest rescue unit to us is two counties away. In an entrapment situation, time is of the essence. Training and special equipment are required. Mistakes can be made extremely fast, and a rescue scene can quickly turn into a recovery operation.”

Young discussed the possibility of a rescue unit with fellow farmers, elected government officials, and the Jackson County Farm Bureau board.

“We all agreed we needed a plan. The enthusiasm was widespread, but no money was available to support it,” he added.

Without adequate funding, the idea was placed on the back burner.

Securing the Funds

In 2022, Young saw a chance to bring the idea to life. An opportunity arose when Jackson County received funds from the American Rescue Plan (ARP).

“County and city governments nationwide received ARP funds to support local public projects. As chairman of the county finance committee, I proposed to allocate a portion of the ARP funds toward establishing a rescue unit,” he said.

The committee agreed, and the proposal was approved. On Aug. 16, the Jackson County Quorum Court pledged $75,000 to the program.

The committee decided to invest the funding with the City of Newport because out of the 12 fire departments in the county, the Newport Fire Department (NFD) is the only full-time, paid company. The remaining 11 are volunteer departments.

“There is a memorandum of understanding between the county and the city,” Young said. “Investing the money with the city of Newport would provide on-call, trained firefighters around the clock in the event of a grain bin emergency.”

He contacted David Stewart, mayor of Newport. Together they collaborated with others including County Judge Jeff Phillips and Newport Fire Chief Alan Gansz.

With flawless cooperation among county and city officials, a contract was signed, and the planning continued.

Equipment and Training

Training is currently underway for first responders, with more extensive sessions on the horizon. All firefighters and paramedics employed by NFD will be trained. Additionally, at least one volunteer firefighter from each of the other 11 stations will receive training.

“We want them equipped with everything they need when they roll on the scene,” Young said.

The team has equipped a self-contained vehicle with everything needed for an entrapment emergency. This includes rescue tubes, ropes, harnesses, saws, light systems, generators, and backup batteries.

Establishing this rescue unit is a costly undertaking.

To offset the costs, the city of Newport provided a vehicle specifically for the program. It offered a backup ambulance from its fleet that was no longer in use. The city paid for the repair work and modifications for the equipment to be installed in the vehicle.

The county and city have partnered, spending upwards of $100,000 on the project.

Serving a Broad Area

Partnership with the county allows for dispatch of the NFD outside city limits in response to a grain bin emergency. They will respond to any call in the county and be available to respond to emergency calls from surrounding counties.

To serve such a broad area, Young said, “Jurisdiction must be established, and cooperation with other rural departments is key in this situation.”

Stewart said, “In a grain bin emergency, the NFD will be fully trained to respond. They will also be fully in charge while on the scene.”

Maintaining the Program

While these are not commonly received emergency calls, it is imperative to have a specialized plan in place. The program will need financial support to maintain equipment and to fund ongoing training.

Young hopes to facilitate an arrangement with the Jackson County Farm Bureau to collect voluntary dues amongst farmers and granaries within the county and neighboring areas. This would create a revenue stream for the program and release the overall financial burden from the city of Newport as they broaden the scope of the rescue unit’s service area.

Young and Stewart said this success is due to the excellent working relationship between Jackson County and the city of Newport. They look forward to planning an event this winter to unveil program details and to promote positive cooperation amongst farmers and fire departments across the surrounding area.

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