Firefighters urge caution around grain bins

Published: Feb. 21, 2023 at 4:32 AM CST
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QUINCY (WGEM) - Sunday marked the start of Grain Bin Safety Week, a time when officials are urging farmers to be careful when working in and around grain bins.

According to the Illinois State Fire Marshal, research from Purdue University found more than 900 cases of grain engulfment have been reported with a fatality rate of 62 percent in the past 50 years ending in 2010.

Adams County farmer Brent Clair said there are risks working around grain bins that can even sneak up on experienced farmers.

Clair said at times, the grain in a grain bin can crust to form a layer or mountain of hard material in the bin. He said it can be solid enough to walk on for farmers who will try to knock it loose, but that’s where accidents can happen.

“Once you hit that crack, you’ll fall right in and instead of water, you’ll fall anywhere to five to 10 feet in a void, then that running grain will be pulling you into the auger underneath the bin that takes it out to the side and that’s where the issues come from,” Clair said.

Officials said it only takes four seconds for a full grown adult to sink to their knees in flowing grain and 20 seconds to be completely buried in flowing grain. Suffocation from engulfment is the leading cause of death in grain bins.

Tri-Township Fire Protection District Lieutenant Casey Otten said this happens on occasion, especially if farmers have fans or augers running when they go in to their grain bins. He said if a farmer finds themselves trapped, firefighters do have ways to rescue them.

“There is specialized training that once you are inside a grain bin, it’s a whole different environment. You need to know how to use the equipment that we have and everyone has different equipment, our particular equipment kind of wraps around the individual to keep more product from falling in on them and then we kind of dig them out from the inside out,” Otten said.

He said sometimes they’ll wear respirators if there’s risk of them inhaling any dust or material from the grain bins.

Otten said while they urge farmers not to go into the grain bins, if they do, they should exercise the following precautions:

  • Shut off all equipment like fans and augers.
  • Wear a harness so if you fall you can pull yourself up.
  • Always have a partner around so they can pull you up or contact first responders if something happens.

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