Garrett Riedesel, assistant chief of the Churdan Fire and Rescue Department, displays one of the metal panels that can interlock to form an escape tube around a farmer buried in grain. A group of local farmers recently gave the department enough money for a grain bin rescue kit, the first of its kind in the county.

New kit makes for speedier grain rescues

For the Churdan Fire and Rescue Department, the new gift of a grain bin rescue kit is another tool they hope they’ll never have to use.

But, with more corn being stored for longer periods thanks to demand by ethanol producers, the statistics suggest otherwise.

“There’s definitely a high possibility,” said Garrett Riedesel, assistant fire chief in Churdan.

The grain bin rescue kit is the first of its kind for a Greene County fire department, made possible by four local farmers who donated the $3,500 for the kit and accessories.

The farmers, according to Riedesel, “decided we needed one pretty bad.”

“It was completely free to us,” he said.

The kits — consisting of 10 heavy-duty aluminum panels that interlock to form a perfect tube with steps around an engulfed farmer — have only been available commercially since 2007, according to a grim, 2011 report by Purdue University on grain bin entrapments.

According to that report, grain bin entrapments are on the rise.

The 51 people nationally who were buried in grain in 2010 — 26 died — represented the highest number on record.

The actual number of entrapments was likely higher, according to Purdue, because 70 percent of them occurred on farms exempt from OSHA standards.

There’s simply more storage bins than ever in the nation’s Corn Belt.

The domestic demand for corn by ethanol producers has resulted in the largest buildup of storage capacity in the Midwest in history, the report stated.

Firefighters in Churdan had requested a grain bin rescue kit from Farmers Cooperative, but were told there was a waiting list, according to Riedesel.

Farmers Cooperative, with 52 locations in Iowa, has already purchased 17 rescue tubes for fire departments in the communities it serves, according to a co-op spokesman, and is now caught up on its waiting list.

Churdan just recently received its kit, and has conducted one training session with the kit’s manufacturer, Elbow Lake, Minn.-based Outstate Data.

“It’s super-simple,” said Riedesel, a fire science major at Iowa Central Community College.

During their training, Riedesel said, Churdan first-responders were told of a recent grain bin rescue elsewhere in the Midwest in which 120 firefighters had to shovel an engulfed farmer out of corn by hand.

The rescue took more than seven hours.

The kits are intended to speed up the rescue, which is ideal considering a farmer can be buried by quicksand-like grain in seconds.

Between 1964 and 2005, according to Purdue, 74 percent of documented entrapments were fatal.

Suffocation is the leading cause of death.

The Jefferson Fire Department will be able to call on Churdan for mutual aid if needed, but has talked about getting a grain bin rescue kit of its own, said Randy Love, Jefferson fire chief.

“We’re always interested in new equipment that’s going to make us more efficient,” Love said.

In Love’s 18 years with the department, there’s never been a grain bin rescue locally, but the possibility exists, he said.

“It’s always better to have it,” he said, “and hopefully never use it.”

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