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Firefighter Adam Jallo, center, and other volunteers listen to Craig Berg, center left, while participating in a controlled grain entrapment rescue at the Fordville (N.D.) Quick Response Center on Tuesday, Oct. 17, 2017. Nick Nelson / Agweek

Firemen learn about grain bin entrapment and rescue

FORDVILLE, N.D. — Though Craig Berg has led at least 1,400 training sessions on grain bin entrapment, his enthusiasm and sense of purpose haven't dimmed.

"Grain bins keep getting bigger, and the risk of entrapment keeps growing. So we need to be ready," he said.

Berg, training coordinator with Outstate Data in Elbow Lake, Minn., led members of the Fordville, N.D., Fire Department through training on a warm, clear evening on Oct. 17. On the edge of Fordville — a farm town of 200 in north-central North Dakota — combines growled as they harvested corn.

AgCountry Farm Credit Services selected five fire departments — in the North Dakota towns of Cavalier, Fordville, LaMoure and Lisbon and in Hawley, Minn., and Fosston, Minn. — to receive grain bin rescue units and follow-up training from Outside Data. The Minnesota company describes its mission as "providing agri-business with grain safety equipment."

Fordville's volunteer fire department has 18 members, most of them farmers. Adam Jallo, who grow up on a local farm and now works at the Fordville Co-op Marketing Association grain elevator, was among those attending the Oct. 17 training.

"We know grain bins are dangerous. And we want to be ready, though we hope we never have to use this (equipment or training)," said Jallo, who, as part of the training, stood thigh-deep in grain. The training was conducted in a grain truck, not a bin.

Each rescue unit, which includes a 10-panel system that surrounds a trapped or buried victim, a slide hammer to set the panels in place and other accessories, costs about $3,500, according to AgCountry.

"We're all about supporting agriculture and our rural communities. We see the bin program as an outstanding way to give to both of those initiatives. It's a perfect combination where we can help keep farmers safe while at the same time support the hardworking men and women of our rural fire departments," said Eric Vinje, an AgCountry spokesman.

Big concern

Grain bin entrapment is a longstanding and growing concern in U.S. agriculture. Grain bins continue to get larger, increasing the possibility that large amounts of stored grain will shift quickly, trapping a person working inside it.

The number of U.S. grain entrapment cases and fatalities rose in 2016, according to Purdue University's annual survey of grain handling accidents. The 29 "entrapment incidents" were a 21-percent increase from the 24 incidents in 2015. Eighteen people died from entrapment in 2016, up from 14 the previous year.

The report's author noted that the report doesn't account for all entrapment incidents because there's no mandatory reporting requirement.

AgCountry could offer the grain bin rescue units/training program again next year, with a decision expected in early 2018. Fire departments can get application instructions from their nearest AgCountry offices at that time, Vinje said.

Fargo-N.D.-based Ag Country manages assets of more than $7 billion and nearly 600 employees. The member-owned, locally governed lending institution provides credit and

financial services to more than 18,000 farmers and ranchers in eastern North Dakota, western Minnesota and central Minnesota. AgCountry is part of the Farm Credit System, a nationwide network of cooperative financial services institutions that serve rural America.

Expert suggestions

Every situation is different, so detailed advice for people trapped in grain bins — as well as people trying to rescue them — is difficult, Berg said.

But he offered two basic suggestions:

For victims, "Keep you mouth and nose free of grain. Do your best to keep them open."

For responders, "Don't try to go too fast. Yes, you're in a hurry to help the person who's trapped. But you want to make sure you don't end up a victim, too."

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