By Harlen Persinger
Faced with a possible fight for life when trapped in a grain bin can be an intimidating experience so it's critical to remain still, stay calm, alert and never give up. That's because the difference between a rescue and recovery mission is often measured in minutes or seconds.
Grain storage hazards often stem from three different situations. For example, unloading equipment often creates a funnel-effect in which flowing corn may become waist high in 15 seconds. Spoilage can cling to bin walls causing an avalanche. Or, a collapsed bridge may occur when out-of-condition grain forms a crust during winter storage, freezing and then thawing.
"Proper precautions and attention to details must prevail during this type of accident to avoid an intense, alarming and difficult situation," says Dale Ekdahl, a specialist in bin rescues who designed a prototype package to handle these types of disasters. "The basic system, which costs $2,200, consists of 10 aircraft aluminum panels that slide and interlock together to form a coffer around the trapped victim. The panels are 18 inches by 5 feet and weigh 20 pounds with outside steps. They are capable of fitting through a 20-inch opening and each system has two panels with an inside stop and one slide hammer."
During a recent training session in Stevens Point, Todd Prellwitz, an assistant chief with the Clintonville volunteer fire department quickly realized how helpless he was being fully engulfed in stationary grain.
"The pressure around my diaphragm just kept getting tighter and without the rescue tubes you can quickly become part of a precarious teeter-totter that leaves you helpless," he says. "I certainly learned some valuable safety tips. But, fire departments truly want to prevent such incidents and hope they never encounter a victim and need to use this type of training."