Rescue from Grain Elevator Requires Coordinated Action

Rescue from Grain Elevator Requires Coordinated Action


Sea of grain hampers fire fighters removing the first victim. Holes in the background wall were cut to allow grain to flow away from the trapped men

men—photo by Ron Leifeld

Two men trapped in a grain elevator and in danger of suffocating were rescued by personnel from the Hastings,

Neb., Fire Department and the Hastings Rural Fire District in Ayr. An Adams County ambulance also responded when the call were received around 4:30 on an April afternoon.

The potential disaster began when employees were unloading grain from a horizontal elevator bin. While augering the grain, a grain plug developed in the unloading well. Mike Osborn, Roger Christy and other employees went inside the bin to break loose the plug. When it broke, Osborn was pulled into the cavity and could not move out of the flowing grain.

Went back to help

Christy and the others were able to pull themselves free of the grain movement. Christy immediately went to aid Osborn who by then had been covered by the grain. As he desperately dug the grain from over Osborn, he also became trapped by the grain. The other men were able to return to the outside, shut down the auger and summon aid.

Charles Frazier, a district volunteer fire fighter, also was working at the elevator. He was one of the initial emergency responders and immediately went to the trapped men. His efforts were to keep grain from covering Osborn’s face and to try to help Christy, who was also embedded in the grain. For his efforts, Frazier later received a heroism award at the annual state fire school.

Arriving rescue units provided the necessary rescue equipment—oxygen, ropes and forcible entry tools. The side of the bin had been opened by members of the Hastings Rural Fire District and local elevator employees. As additional help arrived, larger holes were made which provided quicker grain removal. Personnel with grain scoops moved the grain away from the holes so additional grain could be removed from the bin. Life lines and rope slings were rigged, along with grain barriers to shield the victims.

Tips and techniques

From our own experiences and tips taken from various sources, the following is offered as some basic plan of action to consider.

If the victim is completely submerged, turn on any aeration equipment. Bin aeration has been credited with saving lives by providing additional air to victims.

When dealing with agricultural products, the possibility of methane gas or fumigation (depending upon the product stored) must be considered. Again aeration will not only aid the victim but also purge the bin of toxic fumes while rescue is under way.

It will be understood that when working in an atmosphere of methane gas or fumigation, all rescue personnel shall be equipped with appropriate breathing and fire fighting equipment. An incident may occur on private property rather than a commercial unit, so you will have to ask or perhaps presume that fumigation has been done. Don’t expect to see placards or forget its possibility in their absence. If the product stored has a potential for the accumulation of methane gas, your methods of forcible entry may have to be reconsidered. At any rate, sparks, smoking and open flame should be avoided.

Where to cut

In digging out a victim, it depends upon his level as to where holes are cut in the side of the bin. The victim does not have to be buried very deep in grain to prohibit pulling him out. Serious injuries may arise by attempting to remove the victim rather than removing the grain.

The purpose of cutting the hole or holes in the side of a bin is to allow the grain to flow away from the victim. Bins can be repaired. You do not want mechanical equipment unloading the grain bin unless you are absolutely certain the equipment will not injure the victim or cause him to move with the grain. In bins where the grain may be several feet deep, cutting a second or more holes opposite the area of the victim and your first hole will help take the pressure of the grain flow from flowing toward or even over the victim.

As a rescuer, you may have to cut a series of holes in the bin progressively lower so that grain is drained away from over and along side the victim.

You do not want the victim to become a part of the grain flow. The victim may come against support cables or metal supports and be crushed or injured needlessly.

Part of the problem

Rescuers can become a part of the problem. Rescuers should not enter a bin unless they have a lifeline attached, SCBA (if necessary) and sufficient support not to sink into the grain with each step they take. Grain doors, boards, ladders or like items have worked well. Without such support, a rescuer could cause the grain to be tightly packed around the victim.

There should be just enough rescuers to do the job efficiently. Then keep unnecessary personnel clear. Each rescuer’s weight adds to the compacting of the product.

If you believe a barrier is necessary to cut off grain flow above the victim, establish and secure it far enough away from the victim so that it does not slide down into the victim while the grain is being removed. If the situation does have the hill of sliding grain coming down to the victim, additional holes cut opposite the direction of the grain slide will possibly be more beneficial than barriers. Always be prepared for the barriers to move with the grain.

If it is at all possible to determine the depth of the victim, establish the first hole or holes at that upper part of his body level. If the level of the victim or his location is uncertain, cautiously make your openings and consider the resulting grain flow. You will have to cut holes in side walls of the bin. Grain generally cannot be removed enough internally to free a victim without it flowing back on him.

Once you have established your holes, you may need assistance outside the bin to remove the grain so that additional grain can flow.

These tips may not be all-encompassing of the problems involving every grain bin rescue but should serve as a basic guideline in which to choose a course of action.

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