Grain rescue trainer showcased at Dakotafest

Farm Forum

Eleven-year-old Micah Healy quickly volunteered on Aug. 22 to be an entrapment victim.

“It was weird,” he said of being stuck in a bin of corn.

Healy, of Mitchell, was rescued by South Dakota Wheat Growers technical rescue team members during a demonstration at Dakotafest, which ended its three-day run on Aug. 22 near Mitchell. Healy, son of Matt and Joni Healy, stayed calm throughout the exercise, which is typically opposite of real victims who become trapped in grain.

Dressed in a white suit and a harness, Micah led the way up steps to two grain hoppers filled with corn. A small crowd, including his dad, mom, siblings and grandfather, gathered on the landing around the hoppers on a device called the Grain Engulfment Rescue Trainer, or GERT. According to the Wheat Growers, it is the only one of its kind in the United States. GERT can safely simulate several different grain engulfment incidents that provide an opportunity for both rescue training and grain safety insight.

Healy stepped inside one hopper rigged with a roping system to which he and his rescuers — Wheat Growers’ technical rescue team members Tom Waletich, Beth Locken and Matt Huls — were attached.

Slowly the corn was drained from the hopper and Healy began to sink, eventually up to his belly button. As the rescuers explained the process to the crowd, they repeatedly stopped and asked him, “Are you OK? How are you doing? Are you feeling the pressure?”

“Yeah, I’m OK,” Healy said.

“By this time, victims will typically start to panic and move faster,” Locken said, adding that a victim can quickly get buried by the movement.

“If they don’t die from asphyxiation, they’ll die from the pressure on their body,” Waletich said.

Waletich added that the best move for victims to make is at least putting a grain mask or bucket over their face to keep the grain and dust out. This will give them air and time for rescuers to retrieve them.

The rescuers placed four metal panels one at a time around Healy as far down as possible to form a tube. Each panel has bars inside to form a ladder for the victim to climb out. They sucked the corn out with a vacuum, but Huls said a shop vac, coffee can, bucket or hat can also can be used to dig grain out to free victims.

“If they’re conscious, let them help you,” Locken said. “In a real rescue you’re inside a grain bin. And on a day like this, that grain bin is 110 degrees.”

As they sucked grain out, they pushed the panels down farther to prevent corn from collapsing back into the tube. They instructed Healy to bend his knees as he was able and start walking to get himself out of the corn.

The device used in the Aug. 22 demonstration was completed in 2012 at the South Dakota State Fair, Huls said. In the year since its completion, the Wheat Growers’ technical rescue team has trained 300 firefighters to use the panels.