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Firefighters learn grain bin rescue procedures

Traves Sutton, Assistant Chief 3 of the North Washington Volunteer Fire Department, stands Saturday, Sept. 17, listing to the instructor after making the first practice rescue of a victim inside a grain silo. Shane Potter/Butler Eagle
‘It’s kind of like an avalanche’

WASHINGTON TWP — Several local fire departments gathered Saturday at North Washington Rodeo Grounds and a local farm to receive hands-on training for grain bin rescues.

The all-day event taught first responders the importance of resources, preparedness and teamwork when encountering difficult agricultural rescue situations.

Training was provided by Emergency Services Rescue Training after the North Washington Fire Department was given a grain tube by the Butler County Farm Bureau. The tube is an aluminum pipe placed around an individual stuck in grain, allowing the person to have oxygen and allowing firefighters to make an efficient rescue.

According to Chad Jespersen, lead instructor of the training, farmers often do quality checks of their grain or corn in the 48-foot grain bins, and if they fall in, they could become submerged.

“Within Pennsylvania, you see about one a year where there is entrapment,” he said. “Out of 10, five are fatal. It’s kind of like an avalanche.”

Saxonburg Volunteer Fire Company received a grain tube from the bureau in 2019. According to Evelyn Minteer, a bureau board member, Prospect Borough/ Franklin Township Volunteer Fire Department also received a donated tube.

She said the bureau hopes to supply a fourth department with a tube to cover the four corners of Butler and the nearly 1,000 farms within it.

Attendees traveled to a local farm to see a grain bin and get comfortable using the grain tube following a presentation.

During a morning session, Jespersen explained the importance of evaluating the situation of a rescue before moving ahead.

“You’re best resource for an agricultural emergency is the farmer or a neighboring farm. They’ll know the equipment,” he said. “Rescues fail because of failure to understand the environment, overlooking medical complications with the victim, lack of training and equipment not being mastered.”

Ryan Enscoe, assistant fire chief at North Washington, said he was experiencing the training for the first time.

He explained the procedure for a rescue starts with locating the entrapped individual in the grain bin, evaluating where to put the grain tube, cutting relief holes in the grain bin directly across from each other, and emptying the bin.

“You tell them to put their arms out to try and stop from sinking, or to cover their face to conserve oxygen. There’s hundreds of pounds on top of them, it’s like being stuck in quicksand,” he said.

“This is a multi-department type of rescue with multiple apparatuses.”

In addition to North Washington, Petrolia, Chicora and Bruin volunteer fire departments attended the training.

Dave Fennell, of the Chicora Volunteer Fire Department, said the training for grain bin rescues was different than other emergencies.

“It’d be time consuming compared to a vehicle accident, you need a lot of resources,” he said.

Bruce Confer, chief at North Washington, said this was not the first training the department has had.

“It’s about learning. Learning and getting to get with people,” he said.

On Saturday, Sept. 17, Chad Jespersen from Emergency Service Response Training right watches as Traves and Carter Sutton practice making a rescue of a victim stuck in a corn silo. Shane Potter/Butler Eagle
Chad Jespersen, center, from Emergency Service Response Training in State College, Pa, shows a number of volunteer firefighters from around the area how to put together the tool for saving someone trapped in a grain silo. Training took place on Saturday, Sept. 17. Shane Potter/Butler Eagle
On Saturday, Sept. 17, Ryan Ensoe, assistant chief 2 of the North Washington Volunteer Fire Department, shows the class how to test the air inside of a silo. This way the firefighters know if there is to much or not enough oxygen in the silo before entering. Shane Potter/Butler Eagle
Traves Sutton, right, and his son, Carter Sutton, middle carry Pepsi crates onto the corn silo so they have something to step on. The crates make it possible for them to not sink into the corn. The grain silo training took place on Saturday, Sept. 17. Shane Potter/Butler Eagle
Chad Jespersen, center right, with the Emergency Service Response Training in State College, Pa., talks with a group of volunteer firefighters about putting together the tool for saving someone trapped in a grain silo. Training took place on Saturday, Sept. 17, at North Washington’s Rodeo Grounds and a local farm. Shane Potter/Butler Eagle

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