That sinking feeling: Grain bin rescue training



Buried up to his chest in corn kernels inside a grain bin, Hamilton Township volunteer firefighter Travis Quillen was asked if he could move.

He could wiggle his body a little bit, but he wasn’t able to free himself.

Three other firefighters grabbed four rescue panels and placed them around Quillen. Once those were secure, a vacuum was used to suck up the kernels surrounding Quillen.

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He was then able to move and lift himself out of the grain bin.

Quillen was one of nearly 30 first responders, farmers and agribusiness employees participating in the Hazards of Flowing Grain and Confined Space Entry/Rescue training Saturday at the Hamilton Township Volunteer Fire Department in Cortland.

The eight-hour course was led by Bill Harp and his son, Michael Harp, with the Safety and Technical Rescue Association of Livonia, Michigan.

“I grew up around a farm, so I just played in the corn when I was little. I’ve never been up to my chest,” Quillen said of the feeling of being engulfed in a grain bin.

“It was just a strange feeling sinking down — a lot of pressure,” he said. “It puts you — if you’re on a rescue — in their shoes and what they are feeling. It gives you respect for if you’re working around (grain bins), don’t get in that situation.”

Quillen said he never has had to rescue someone from a grain bin. But 30 years ago, Hamilton Township’s fire chief, Jack Schafstall, was one of two people killed in a grain bin accident at nearby Rose Acre Farms.

Now that he has participated in training, Quillen said he knows how to respond in the event of a rescue situation.

“If we would ever get called to something like this, we have a little bit of experience to know what to do,” he said. “Just the knowledge from all aspects so if it happens or when it happens, we’re better prepared.”

The Harps travel around North America leading training sessions for those who work around grain bins or confined spaces.

The first half of Saturday’s training was spent in a classroom setting with a PowerPoint presentation by Bill Harp.

Then after lunch, the group was split in half, each getting the opportunity to participate in the grain engulfment and rescue with Michael Harp and non-entry confined space rescue with Bill Harp.

With the grain engulfment and rescue, a grain bin filled with corn kernels is inside part of a semitrailer, and students climb steps to the top of it to do the hands-on training.

Michael Harp asks for a volunteer to get in the grain bin, and then three people make up the rescue team.

“The reaction on their face is kind of shocking, and it’s very surprising to them to see how little grain it takes to truly have you stuck where you can’t get out,” he said.

In five seconds, a person working in a grain bin could be engulfed and may not be able to get free. In less than 60 seconds, the person could be covered up.

“Somewhere between mid-thigh to belly button level is the average spot where someone gets engulfed, basically when you can’t bend your knees and jump anymore,” Michael Harp said.

It could then take hours to free them. Sometimes, they are found alive. But in some instances, the pressure from the corn or grain causes the person to suffocate and die.

In 2010, at least 26 people were killed in the United States by grain entrapment — the highest number on record, according to Purdue University. In 2014, 38 grain bin entrapments resulted in 17 deaths, which were the highest numbers since 2010.

With the non-entry confined space rescue, a large metal tripod with ropes and harnesses is set up to simulate how to rescue someone trapped in a tight space.

Bill Harp said the purpose of that training is to allow students to trust the equipment and have confidence in themselves to use it without endangering themselves or the person they are trying to help.

Michael Harp said it’s interesting because everyone uses different strategies.

“You can have three different groups that have all been trained the same, and they pick different anchors and different game plans,” he said. “It’s fun watching the brainwork trying to figure out this puzzle.”

While all of the training is useful to the students, Michael Harp said he hopes they never find themselves involved in a rescue situation.

“We really want to with these people just preach the awareness and the prevention,” he said. “We have people from our training every year do rescues. … The big thing for us is how many instances have we stopped by people acting differently and thinking differently.”

This was the second time for Seymour FFA to plan the training session. In 2014, it was led by instructors from Purdue University.

The training was conducted again because of the number of agriculture-related accidents over the years and agriculture/farming being considered one of the most dangerous occupations in the country, said Jeanna Eppley, FFA adviser and agriculture teacher at Seymour High School.

“I think this one is providing an extra step, like a progressive level,” she said of this year’s training.

But the goal remained the same — teaching safety and prevention.

“Gaining that experience, a comfort level for when they get into a situation — God forbid there is an incident — that they can use that training,” Eppley said.

A handful of FFA students helped with Saturday’s training as a community service project. One of them even participated in the grain engulfment exercise.

“Right now, we’re teaching the next generation that’s going to be working in those grain facilities,” Eppley said.

Students received certification at the end of the training. The class was free thanks to donations from Rose Acre Farms, Wischmeier Trucking Inc., Premier Ag, Kova Farm Supply, Boknecht Brokerage, Beacon Ag Group, Wright Implement and George Uppling and Associates.

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For information about the Safety and Technical Rescue Association, visit


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