These days Steve Wettschurack spends his time trying to save lives. He does it by teaching classes on grain bin safety, especially grain bin rescue efforts to first responders all across Indiana. In a program that far exceeded expectations, he's trained some 500 first responders on grain bin accident responses this summer alone. He's affiliated with Bill Field's safety program at Purdue University.
Recently, he demonstrated why grain is so dangerous, and how rescues can be attempted, to high school ag and FA students during a safety forum hosted by the Indiana Rural Safety and Health Council at the Beck Ag Center and on the grounds of the Purdue Agronomic Research Center near West Lafayette. More than 100 kids and 50 adults attended the program.
"It pulls you in and you're done he told students standing on a platform, looking down into the bottom half of a wet bin, cut off to reveal what happens to a life-size dummy when the auger is turned on below to let grain out of the bin. The dummy is soon waist-deep, a point at which if the dummy was a person, he could not escape his fate but would need help to get out.
While there are various rescue kits now available, the one demonstrated was made of plastic material so that it can bend and be easily placed inside a bin, even if the bin entry door is relatively small. The rescue units aren't cheap costing up to $3,000 for one set of some models.
Wettschurack used one side panel of the device to show how he would insert it along the front side, the face side, of a victim. Everything first responders do once in a bin can influence the victim's chances to survive, he says. For example, he recommends no more than two rescuers attempt to free the victim inside the bin. The more people walking around on the pile of grain, the more compression that is placed on the grain. The compression ultimately puts more pressure on the victim's chest, who is already struggling to breath.
"One thing people need to know is that even if someone has been submerged for a long time, you can't and shouldn't assume they are dead," he notes. "There can still be a chance of rescuing them alive if the rescue procedure is don't properly."
He was adamant on one other point. "I've farmed and I still farm. I used to get into bins. I will never get into a grain bin again with an auger running below," he says. "There is no excuse you can give me that's good enough to cause me to enter that bin with the auger running."