Cataract Sportsmen’s Club donates lifesaving equipment to FD

Wisconsin is home to more than 60,000 farms so it should come as no surprise that agriculture is the largest industry in Monroe County. Farming comes with its own set of challenges and its own set of dangers.
One threat Erv’s Sparta Area Fire Protection District is hoping to extinguish is deaths by grain bin entrapment. With the help of Cataract Sportsmen’s Club, the department recently obtained new grain bin rescue equipment. 
As farmers put moist grain or corn into grain bins a crust can begin to form on the surface. As they unload the corn from the bin, that crust becomes somewhat hard. 
Air pockets are created when the grain or corn is augured out from the bottom. While it looks like it’s full and level from the top, it’s not.
Farmers may enter the grain bin to service it, fall through the crust and become entrapped inside.
“That can happen in as quick as five to 10 seconds,” Fire Chief Mike Arnold said, adding if the farmer is not found immediately and becomes entrapped, it is likely they will suffocate. “The grain or corn basically doesn’t allow their lungs to inhale and exhale and the farther down you sink, the harder it is to breathe.”
Some brain cells start dying less than five minutes after the oxygen supply disappears and a lack of oxygen can rapidly cause severe brain damage. 
“Anytime someone becomes entrapped, time is of the essence,” Arnold added. 
With a generous donation from the Cataract Sportsmen’s Club, Arnold was able to purchase an eight-panel rescue tube, which gives emergency personnel a three and a half foot circumference around the person entrapped. 
In an emergency situation, from portable rescue platforms, crews will slide panels into the grain or corn one panel at a time. The panels interlock to form a wall around the entrapped person. 
Once the wall is built, an auger, which is completely encapsulated to avoid further injury, is placed inside the wall and the material is removed in order for crews to get a harness around the victim to pull them out of the bin. 
Without the specialized equipment, crews would have to diagonally cut two cuts into the side of the grain bin, proportionally across from each other and unload the grain bin in order to find the entrapped person.
Depending on the size of the bin and the amount of material inside, it could take hours. 
“It’s far more time consuming and the chances of a successful rescue are greatly diminished,” Arnold said.
In late September, Sparta FD firefighters got the opportunity to use the new device when they attended training that was organized by GundersenAIR flight paramedic Lance Luther. In 2019, Gundersen aided four farming emergencies related to grain bins.
Luther gathered some co-workers as well as local emergency personnel for a scenario-based training session at Mark and Darlene Merow’s Lone Bluff Farm in Cataract to help prepare the agencies for future emergencies. 
One thing Arnold would like farmers to remember is that if entering a grain bin, be sure to use a safety line, make sure someone is there watching and have a phone nearby in case help is needed.
“The most physically fit person can’t overcome the weight and the force of grain when you’re entrapped,” he said. “Farming can be a dangerous occupation if you don’t pay attention. 
According to Arnold, grain bin entrapments are becoming more common, especially with the corn being so abnormally wet this year.  
 “We’re fortunate that we have the equipment now to respond to these types of emergencies, but we hope and pray that we never have to use it,” he said. “It is a really neat system and we can’t thank the Cataract Sportsmen’s Club enough for taking the initiative to purchase this device for us.”
In the future the department would also like to purchase some additional body harnesses, safety ropes and more rescue platforms to enhance its grain bin rescue kit.

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