Fire departments prepare for rise in agricultural incidents during spring

Published: Mar. 22, 2023 at 11:30 PM CDT
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BURLINGTON, Iowa (KWQC) - As spring approaches one Quad City fire department is prepared for an increase in agricultural-related incidents.

Officials with the Burlington Fire Department tend to see a rise in events like grain bin rescues during the fall and spring seasons.

Since, the 1970s, Purdue University has kept track of statistics about agricultural injuries and fatalities.

In 2021, Illinois saw 5 grain bin entrapments the most in the whole country.

Meanwhile, Iowa led the country with 8 agricultural confined space entrapments. Those incidents include all facilities like grain bins or waste storage.

Most recently a farmer in DeWitt died in a grain bin entrapment last week.

The United States saw 23 ag workers lose their lives in confined spaces in 2021.

If someone happens to get stuck in a grain bin Burlington Fire Battalion Chief Todd VanScoy said it’s best not to move, as grain acts almost like quicksand.

“Don’t panic,” VanScoy said. “When you get into the corn or the beans, or any engulfment situation, that material puts a lot of pressure on ... your system itself.”

When going into a bin, Captain Robert Bernt recommends letting someone know or having someone else nearby, as time is key.

“If we can get to you, when the corn is below, at your waist or below, it’s a lot easier to get you out,” Bernt said.

Most departments in Des Moines county have access to a device called a Res-Q-Tube.

When crews arrive at the scene, they place soda crates to step on in the grain bin.

Then they surround the person stuck with the device and use an auger to remove the grain, putting it back in the bin.

“What we’re trying to do is to alleviate that pressure that’s going against your body,” Bernt said. “We build a cofferdam around you.”

Burlington and other departments train yearly with these devices, as they need to be very careful when implementing them.

“In a situation like this, it does take a lot of hands, a lot of people, fire, EMS, rescue guys,” VanScoy said. “We would even utilize the farmers. They’re a huge asset.”

According to Purdue, 31% of entrapments were fatal in 2021, down from 59% historically.

Purdue has not yet published information about ag-related entrapments for 2022.