By Michelle Peel
There is always potential for the unexpected to happen, and it’s important to be prepared when it does. Sometimes that means training for situations you hope you never have to face.
Such was the case for first responders at a grain-bin rescue training sponsored by Lapeer County Farm Bureau March 26.
More and more grain bins are going up on farms as producers tap every resource for maxing profit margins. Storing grain on the farm helps growers take advantage of markets at their most profitable, but there’s a risk that goes beyond market volatility.
Purdue University’s Agricultural Safety and Health Program 2021 Summary of U.S. Agricultural Confined Space-Related Injuries and Fatalities found no fewer than 56 confined-space incidents documented on farms last year, almost 30 of them were entrapments related to grain storage and handling. Many more cases likely go unreported if outside help isn’t needed.
In Lapeer County a conversation over pancakes at a fire department fundraiser got the ball rolling with the North Branch Township Fire Department. Its training coordinator answered an immediate ‘yes’ when asked if local first responders would be interested in a grain-bin rescue training if Farm Bureau sponsored it.
So Mackenzie Delong, a Promotion & Education volunteer, set to work by contacting the Safety and Technical Rescue Association (SATRA), a Livonia-based organization specializing in tactical rescues and trainings.
When last-minute obstacles threatened to derail the training — like needing an indoor location with at least a 20-foot ceiling — Farm Bureau members called upon their contacts in the community for assistance. Soon enough they’d found a location, secured corn to fill the grain-bin simulator, and coordinated with the county road commission to ensure frost law restrictions were met.
(The SATRA trainer commented, “Wow, you guys are good — you’d be impressive in a real emergency!”)
SATRA brought in a grain-bin entrapment simulation trailer, leading the classroom and practical exercises taught by professional firefighters. Participants from five fire departments from two counties, plus Lapeer County EMS, learned about grain-bin issues, Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) standards, air monitoring and related topics.
They practiced key practical skills including rope and harness work and rescue procedures.
The response from the training was overwhelmingly positive, with firefighters asking for another countywide training to be planned. Several may attend a multi-day Mid-Michigan Safety Training offered by SATRA, with Lapeer County Farm Bureau pledging financial support for firefighters and first responders to attend trainings that can be used on farms — all hoping these skills will never be needed.
Michelle Peel is Promotion & Education chair for the Lapeer County Farm Bureau.