Family farm accident sheds light on safety awareness

While cutting hay in August 2017, Peter Flondra noticed something wrong when he saw smoke a short distance away coming from a different field.

He called his wife, Mary, and daughter, Tamara, to immediately check it out. When they arrived, they discovered the whole bale hiker that their son Greg was using was on fire.

“When we got there, we couldn’t figure out where Greg was,” Mary recalled during a phone interview from her farm near Vilna, Alta.

“We thought, ‘why didn’t he unhook the tractor,’ because the tractor was going to burn, too?”

But they soon discovered that Greg had somehow been pinned by the hiker arm. They aren’t sure how it happened, but the autopsy showed he died immediately.

“Why he got off the tractor and why there was a fire, we can’t figure it out,” Mary said.

The Flondras’ story is just one of many on the Prairies in which farming accidents happen. Their story comes in light of growing awareness over Alberta’s new farm safety rules, which took effect earlier this month.

While the rules don’t apply to the Flondras or other family farms, they are sharing their experience to hopefully prepare others in case they ever find themselves losing a loved one on the farm.

“There was a severe impact on us,” Mary said. “He was our only son and he was going to take over the farm. Ultimately, the whole idea was crushed.”

She said the family wasn’t prepared for Greg’s death. They had little to worry about. He was 32, married, had three children, and everything seemed to be going as planned.

But everything changed when he died. They had to deal with things they never thought they would have to.

For instance, Mary said Greg didn’t have life insurance on a loan, which affected the family and his wife financially. He also didn’t have a will, which made it difficult to legally determine how his assets should have been split up.

“One thing I would suggest to people is that don’t think it will never happen to you,” Mary said.

Peter added: “Life can be so short. People don’t realize that any moment you spend with your child is actually so precious.”

Their workload changed when Greg died. Peter and Mary were starting to slow down, but now they couldn’t. More energy was spent on calving, feeding, seeding, spraying and harvesting.

But if anything good came from it, Mary said, it was that it brought the family closer together. Their son-in-law helped a lot and their other daughter had moved much closer to home.

“We all banded together and took on the workload,” she said. “Financially, we have managed.”

However, she said they’ve been working so hard that sometimes it’s been difficult to process the death of their son.

“From an emotional standpoint, you’re so busy you don’t deal with the emotional stuff,” she said. “When you’re so busy, it’s easier to just forget.”

Any time they required counselling, they found the services were limited and pricey.

The community has stepped in and helped out the family, but the topic has been uncomfortable to talk about.

“Again, it’s just one of those things you don’t think about,” Mary said. “Rural Alberta really lacks those professional services.”

As well, the family has become a lot more careful, even scared, since the accident.

Greg used to deal with cows that gave them trouble but now, if one is problematic, they sell it.

“This year we sold 35 cows,” Mary said. “She just had to look at us the wrong way and she was up for sale.

“For any equipment, we are so much more aware of what the potential danger might be.”

Along with sharing their story, Mary hopes some changes can be made so others don’t face similar challenges.

She hopes that life insurance becomes mandatory when people are getting a loan. As well, she would like to see more support services in rural communities and better responses to 911 calls. It can take a long time before the ambulance shows up.

“If you have an accident, take them to the hospital immediately,” she said. “If you wait, you don’t know if they will be there in time.”

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