Ag for Life session offers first responders training in extrication and disentanglement from farm equipment
DEWINTON, Alta. — Pat MacIsaac and Neal Rowan of the fire department in Okotoks, Alta., have seen their share of farm accidents.
They have responded to tractor rollovers, auger entanglements, pesticide poisoning and electrocutions from equipment contact with power lines.
Every scenario is different, which is why they and eight other firefighters and first responders from the Foothills and Okotoks fire departments trained in farm and rural rescue Sept. 10.
Lynn Roberts is no stranger to farm accidents either. The 25 year veteran firefighter has been training other responders since 2002. Roberts operates Roberts Safety Ltd. in Olds, Alta., and is a certified health and safety auditor.
“We don’t train enough with farm equipment, and statistically in Alberta, we have around 15 to 20 people every year killed in farm-related accidents,” said Roberts.
He instructs others using a program called Farmedic, which was developed by Cornell University especially for farm accident training.
“I was raised on a farm so I know about farm equipment. I’ve been a firefighter for 25 years and an EMT for about 20, and I’ve gone to a lot of these scenarios, so I’ve lived it, if that’s the right term. I haven’t enjoyed it, but I’ve lived it.”
The training event was sponsored by Ag for Life, an Alberta charity focused on farm safety.
“Our goal is to drastically reduce the number of injuries and fatalities that happen on Alberta farms,” said Ag for Life chief executive officer Luree Williamson.
“We know when the unthinkable does happen, seconds count. And for a lot of first responders arriving on scene, to be able to have had some hands-on experience … that reduces those seconds.”
The training session in Dewinton was the pilot for the program, and Williamson said she anticipates Ag for Life will offer three or four sessions per year in the province.
There is no charge for the training. Costs are covered by Ag for Life sponsors.
The session allowed course participants to extricate a mock victim from an auger, remove a person from beneath a tractor and disentangle one from a simulated power take-off accident.
Roberts said the rescue scenarios are dictated to some extent by the type of equipment donated for the purpose, all of which is old.
However, participants also visited a farm equipment dealership as part of the course so they could examine modern machinery and discuss how rescues could be handled.
Rowan said the course is useful.
“I think it just reinforces that there’s so much variety of equipment … and that it can change over the years, and it just shows us that we need to make sure that we do the specialized training more often,” said Rowan.
MacIsaac said the best thing farmers can do to avoid meeting first responders at an accident is to maintain situational awareness.
“Make sure you’re doing good risk assessments before you move any piece of machinery or tackle a job. Make sure you’re taking the worst case scenario into account.”
Roberts agreed, saying the number of farm fatalities in Alberta has remained fairly stable, at 15 to 20 per year, for the last several years. There are fewer than there used to be, but obviously there is room for improvement.
“One of the biggest things is talk about safety on your farm,” said Roberts.
“Do hazard assessments. Assess what’s safe and what’s not safe. There’s lots of literature out there. A farm can be a safe place as long as the family decides that safety is important.”