Alta. firefighters practice grain entrapment rescue

RED DEER — Grain can be deadly.

In mid-October of 2015, three young sisters northwest of Red Deer died in a farm accident when they became buried in canola seed. Earlier that same autumn, a teenaged boy and his grandfather suffered the same fate on a farm in southwestern Saskatchewan.

Dave Brand, director of Community & Protective Services for Red Deer County, referred to the deaths as “catalyst events.”

The tragedies prompted the Canadian Agricultural Safety Association to focus on educating the public on the risks of working around grain handling and processing equipment and training first responders on rescue techniques.

Brand, who sits on the board of directors of CASA, recently co-ordinated grain entrapment rescue training sessions in Red Deer County.

“By the end of today, we’ll have trained over 50 firefighters in Central Alberta in the last month,” he said Feb. 23.

That day’s practical training took place at a Red Deer County fire station following four hours of classroom instruction. It used the CASA Be Grain Safe mobile trailer that simulates entrapment in flowing grain. The trailer has a built-in 7,000 grain capacity silo and demonstration platform with a hoist that safely lowers a mannequin or person into the grain. The initial demonstration saw the mannequin partially buried in the grain-filled silo.

Chad Harper tests for the location of the victim’s appendages under the wheat before starting placement of the rescue tube. | Maria Johnson photo

Subsequently each participant experienced entrapment up to chest height while fellow firefighters practiced rescue techniques.

Participants learned just how quickly entrapment can occur. Brand said “A person can be buried in seconds.”

“The most important thing is to stop the flow of grain,” he said. “And then to create a barrier” from which to take the grain away.

The barrier, a grain rescue tube pieced together from interlocking sections around the victim, was then sunk into the grain — wheat in this exercise.

Trainees then operated electric-drill-powered augers to remove the wheat within the rescue tube and the victim was helped out. Various scenarios were practised.

Participants learned that trying to pull out an entrapped person is not recommended and can cause severe injury due to the hundreds of pounds of force exerted by the grain. And each time a trapped person moves, grain flows into the space, which can restrict movement, including breathing, and render a person immobilized. It’s a situation that can become very dangerous very quickly.

Warren Kitteringham, left, and Tyler Berry, both from the Penhold Fire Department, piece the rescue tube together around the victim and then work to sink it into the grain before beginning to auger the wheat from around the victim. | Maria Johnson photo

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