Grain bin safety workshop to return to Cecil County Fair

Managing Editor

ELKTON, Md. (July 19, 2016) — Two weeks after the Cecil County Fair held a grain bin safety workshop during its Ag Showcase last year, a farmer in the county got stuck in the auger of a grain bin prompting a rescue by firefighters.
Some of the first responders on the scene had been to the workshop at the fair and helped to get the farmer free and receive medical care.
“They did an excellent job,” said Jeff Willis, safety manager at Perdue Agribusiness, who led the workshop. “It was nice to see that all the time and effort we put into this paid off.”
That time and effort is coming back to the Cecil County Fair this year on July 26 as fair organizers hope to reach more farmers and firefighters about the importance of grain bin safety and what to do if someone is engulfed in a grain bin.
“We want farmers to come to hear about the safety presentation and we’re reaching out to neighboring counties in Maryland, Pennsylvania and Delaware to help the firefighters with training,” said Al Miller, Cecil County Fair president.
Miller said farm safety has routinely been part of the fair’s Ag Showcase and after talking with local fire companies, organizers decided engulfment training was badly needed. Willis and other Perdue staff brought their mobile grain bin unit that they use for their training and education.
About 85 people came last year, Miller said and he was pleased with the feedback from those that came.
Many who attended practiced proper grain bin extraction procedures and got certificates for the training.
He said one firefighter approached him in the parking lot and asked Miller if he was involved in putting on the workshop.
“He said, ’that’s the best thing you’ve ever done at the fair. That was an amazing presentation,’” Miller said. “That just old me we need to do this again.”
This year’s program starts at 9 a.m., earlier than last year to take advantage of cooler morning temperatures on the fairground’s Main Fair Stage.
Willis will start with a slide show and safety tips on how to avoid engulfment and the actual grain tank safety training will take place behind the stage after that.
For more information, call Wayne Stafford at 443-309-2431 or Miller at 410-808-3000.
Along with holding the program for a second year, Miller said two metal rescue tubes, called cofferdams — which are essential in grain bin extractions and put them on fire company rescue vehicles —  were purchased by the Cecil County Fair Board and given to fire companies in Rising Sun and Cecilton to get quicker coverage in both the north and south ends of the county.
“We know that we need to train more fire companies on how to handle engulfments. It’s a unique situation, that’s all I can say,” Miller said.
Willis said firefighters get training on rescuing people from confined spaces but when that confined space is a grain bin and the firefirghters are dealing with engulfment, they’re not necessarily trained with those specific skills.
“When you get people buried in these tanks, a lot of people don’t know what to do,” Willis said. “We wish we never have to use these skills but we hope that when the time comes, they know what to do.”
Willis recalled an engulfment incident in 2013 in Boonsboro, Md., where firefighters were on the scene for five hours before the farmer was rescued using a makeshift cofferdam firefighters built on sight.
“They tried various methods to get him out and it just didn’t work,” Willis said.
Using the cofferdam shields the victim from sinking further into the grain. With the tube in place around the victim, the grain inside can be removed and then the person can be pulled out.
Willis said each of Perdue’s elevators are equipped with cofferdams, harnesses and rigging equipment for use in an extraction and local fire companies have access to them in the event of an engulfment. 
Just as important as knowing how to get someone who’s stuck in a grain tank out is knowing how to avoid getting stuck in the first place, Willis said.
“Trying to prevent this from happening, that’s the hard part,” Willis said.
According to the University of Iowa’s Health and Safety Center, 80 percent of engulfments happen when a farmer enters the bin while equipment is drawing grain out and Willis said that should never happen.
“There’s no reason to be in these bins with equipment running,” Willis said. “We don’t go into those conditions and that’s what we try to teach the farmers.”
Perdue started holding its own safety classes for its grain elevator workers in 2004, Willis said, developing a program with the Safety and Technical Rescue Association.
In 2006 it constructed a stationary training unit at its Berlin, Md., terminal and started inviting local fire companies to participate in trainings.
“We had a lot of strong interest locally and companies from as far as New Jersey,” Willis said.
Four years later, it built the mobile unit in 2010 as a way to take the training and education to more people.
“It opened up more opportunity for us,” Willis said. “From there it just evolved to what it is today.”
Along with Delmarva, he said the unit has gone to Pennsylvania, New Jersey, North Carolina and South Carolina, teaching hundreds of firefighters and first responders.