County fire departments train for grain bin rescues

Larry Seaman who was at Norders’ north facility in Hebron for a grain bin rescue training Sept. 18, said Thayer County has been fortunate when it comes to bin accidents.

In the days after the training, authorities identified the deceased man who was recovered from a grain bin north of Fremont. 

Hebron Fire Chief Wayne Kugel recalled his racing friend, Gaylon Herman, was buried up to his chin inside the bin in Juniata. 

“They couldn’t get to him. The grain was going down,” Kugel said. 

Herman was rescued, but not before he was pulled under the grain because of pressure. 

If he wasn’t thinking about it already, Kugel’s focus on grain rescue equipment for the department became decisive, especially after member Ben Voss came back from fire school educated in grain safety. 

Norders wanted to know what the department had on hand for grain rescue equipment and eventually, guided Hebron Fire to a Farm Credit Services grant for Dale Ekdahl’s panel system designed by rescuers specifically for bin incidents.

Mike Long was also a proponent, and offered a donation from he and his wife, Ellen, on behalf of Long Crop Service. 

Ekdahl, owner of Outstate Data in Minnesota, which manufactures the manual equipment to save those trapped in grain, travels and trains rescuers, and was on site at Norders to give instructions. The rescue apparatus made its debut in 2011. Ekdahl has trained elsewhere in Nebraska — in 2013, he was in Fremont.   

Voss was favorable toward the equipment and Kugel invited county departments to learn about it, although Carleton Fire has a similar apparatus. 

“I’m glad Hebron invited the departments. I feel like we need to be ready and departments know other towns have specialized equipment if they need it,” Cory Clark of the Carleton Volunteer Fire Department said. Carleton had a total of five people at the training. Clark was glad to see the cooperation between departments and hopes to see more. 

“Just have everyone work together and train on other things, like JAWS and Hebron has a dive team, and see how things go,” Clark said.   

“The mechanics are simple,” Berdon Pedersen of Davenport Fire said. He was at the training with fellow member, Joel Reinke, who is the department’s training officer. Pedersen is the EMT captain. 

Ekdahl stood in a wheat-filled grain truck at Norders and supervised rescue scenarios with the “victim” or “victims” encased in grain. He gave the volunteers actual grain bin scenarios to learn from.  

Pedersen said wheat is finer than corn and it’s tougher for the panels to push through the density. Ekdahl’s panels form a protective barrier around the victim to stop grain from sliding, and rescuers  use a bucket to scoop the grain out of the semi-enclosed barrier.   

“The more you step on it, the more it is going to slide down,” Pedersen said. He added the reality is, grain bins are hot or cold, and dark and dusty. 

“It was a lot of common sense and it was good they had someone there who had practical advice for it,” Seaman said about the training.

Alexandria’s Fire Chief, Evan Skiles, said it was good to know the equipment is in the county. It isn’t high tech, and the basic concept is adaptable, if need be. Alexandria Fire had seven people at the training.  

“It’s good to see everyone out for a common goal and work together to train on that,” Alex Tipton of Chester Fire said. 

Should someone become trapped, departments are going to need each other, he added. 

Chester had two members at the training; Gilead sent its chief, Joey Hergott, and Deshler sent a couple of its members. 

Hebron had about 20 members.   

The panels are accompanied by a tote of accessories. 

Kugel said there are three safety harnesses and glasses, ropes, hardhats, gloves, ear protection and buckets for scooping, in addition to other supplies.

“We hope we never have to use it,” Skiles said.