A grain rescue tube awarded to the Brainard Volunteer Fire and Rescue Department will benefit everyone in Butler County.
Nationwide Mutual Insurance Company and the National Educator Center for Agricultural Safety partnered to sponsor a program to award grain rescue tubes to 41 fire departments this year.
Wet harvests in 2019 and 2020 have caused a spike in grain bin-related deaths. Wet harvests can cause the grain to form clumps, which must be pulled out of the bins. Once inside, it takes only a few seconds for someone to sink to their waist in grain.
Grain bin rescues are dangerous and often end tragically. Grain rushes in to fill the empty space created each time a trapped person takes a breath. Eventually, there is no space left and people suffocate.
“Typically you have to ruin the bin because you have to cut it out to lower the grain out of it,” Chief of the Brainard Volunteer Fire and Rescue Department John Bongers said.
A grain rescue tube can change that.
“If we can get there before they’re completely submerged this is exactly what you’re looking for to try to get them out,” Bongers said.
Eric Hofpar, training officer and second assistant chief of the Brainard Volunteer Fire and Rescue Department, submitted the application for Brainard. He said it was a little shocking that Brainard was one of the departments selected to receive a grain bin rescue tube.
According to a press release from Nationwide Mutual Insurance Company, 1,006 departments applied this year.
Hofpar applied for the program in January after finding out about it on Facebook.
“It just popped as a suggestion for me. I do a lot of research on fire grants for the fire department and the city,” Hofpar said.
Hofpar said the department’s mutual aid package is likely what set it apart from the crowd.
“We have a mutual aid system set up and most of the co-ops have an emergency team put together as well as so we work together with them, with the co-ops and local fire departments," Bongers said. "All of our equipment is available to anybody in the area. We work together as a team, all the local departments."
All of Butler County will benefit from the new equipment, thanks to those mutual aid agreements.
“I think this is knowledge that even surrounding communities need to have, and if those departments are willing to learn it I don’t think we’re going to shy away from anybody,” Hofpar said.
Although Brainard was meant to receive the grain bin rescue tube about a month ago, Bongers said the delivery has been delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The training on how to use the tube has also been delayed.
“We can always use the rescue equipment, especially with grain bins all around here,” Bongers said. “That’s one of my bigger fears is to have a grain bin rescue. Especially where our local co-op has 750,000-bushel bins, 1 million-bushel bins.”
Indeed, the danger of grain bin accidents may be going up in Butler County, Hofpar said. Co-ops have been putting up large bins in the area surrounding Brainard every year or year-and-a-half for at least the last five years, Hofpar said.
“All the private farmers are starting to put up grain bins on their own properties. That’s pretty much common practice now,” Hofpar said. “They feel it’s cheaper to put up a grain bin and put up their own storage, versus taking it to the co-op and they get charged for storage.”
Anyone who suspects or knows about a grain bin accident should immediately call 911 and/or their local co-op, which will usually have grain bin rescue equipment.
Molly Hunter is a reporter for The Banner-Press. Reach her via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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