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Safety first

New training program focuses on grain bin accident prevention and rescue strategies
Story by Allison Farley Photos by Hannah Nave Lewis 4/23/2021


Megan Harris, UT Extension Agriculture and Natural Resources agent in Wayne County, was excited to get knee-deep in a grain bin to learn about the rescue and recovery process with (left to right) training coordinator Brian Robinson; Ken Pate, Wayne County First Responder; Richard Williams, Wayne County First Responder; and Nathan Duren, Wayne County Row Crop Producer.
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Agriculture ranks among the most dangerous professions in the United States with a high rate of serious injuries and fatalities. To bring awareness to these risks, the University of Tennessee (UT) Extension Service, Tennessee AgrAbility, and Tennessee Association of Rescue Squads (TARS) joined together to help farmers and first responders focus on prevention and rescue strategies with Grain Bin Safety Awareness and Rescue Training events.

In March of 2020, the first training session was conducted in Carroll County with the help of Carroll County UT Extension staff and Tennessee AgrAbility, a UT Extension program that educates and assists farmers and farm workers with disabilities.

“After the success of the Carroll County event, which took place just before COVID-19 hit, a group of agents felt like there was a need for this kind of training in our community,” says Megan Harris, UT Extension Agriculture and Natural Resources agent in Wayne County.

Over March 12-13, 2021, UT Extension personnel, TARS members, and AgrAbility staff conducted the largest Grain Bin Safety Awareness and Rescue event yet, with participants from Lawrence, Wayne, Giles, Hickman, Maury, Marshall, and Perry counties. Firefighters, emergency management agency, farmers, and rescue squad members learned and practiced the techniques of grain bin rescue during the two-day training, and returned home with supplies for their county.

“As part of the training, every participating county received multiple grain rescue tubes, including the Great Wall of Rescue,” says Harris. “The equipment is strategically placed within the county to ensure fast response times. With the knowledge, equipment, and the right placement, this should help to keep the response time to 30 minutes or less for any grain entrapment.”

Brian Robinson, training coordinator with TARS, says the inspiration for the training program came after a wet corn harvest and multiple grain bin rescues several years ago.

“We had a lot of rain that season, so there was quite a bit of moisture in the corn, which led to an increase in grain bin accidents across the Southeast United States,” says Robinson. “AgrAbility responded by increasing its focus on this critical area of risk.”

During the training, local Extension agents, farmers, and emergency response personnel were taught how to rescue someone trapped in a grain bin, and even experienced the trauma first-hand. Participants got “at least knee-deep” in a grain bin to learn about the rescue and recovery process.

“I can tell you from experience, it’s scary,” says Harris, who helped organize the trainings. “If you slip in, it’s almost like quicksand — you can’t move. I certainly have a better understanding now of how these accidents happen.”

Robinson says the human instinct of panic usually makes a grain-bin accident worse.

“Teaching that prevention is the first priority can make this whole program a success,” he says. “Our second focus is helping participants understand the physics and techniques that go on in a grain rescue to help eliminate that panic response.”

Joetta White, AgrAbility area specialist, says the organization was an active sponsor in creating and hosting the event because the sessions fit so well with AgrAbility’s goals.

“Part of our mission is to enhance and protect the quality of life and preserve livelihoods for farm families touched by physical tragedy,” White says. “We want to make everyone aware of the potential dangers on the farm and help farmers learn what equipment they need, work alongside rescue personnel, and have a rescue instead of a fatality.”

Stacy Large, a TARS volunteer and Jefferson Farmers Co-op member, adds that while grain-bin emergencies are “odd-ball things that may only happen once in a year,” they should be taken seriously.

“Sometimes, it’s late in the day when a family figures out that someone is missing, and they were last seen at a grain bin,” he says. “This training should help both farmers and first-responders know what to do and how to be prepared for such an accident.”

To learn more about this program and to find a Grain Awareness and Rescue Training event near you, contact your local UT Extension office.

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