Employee Turnover, Funding Hampers EMT Ag Training

Firemen and rescue workers trained a decade ago are no longer around.

One of the offshoots of the recent grain bin suffocation tragedy that claimed the life of Richard Henderson, 80, Franklin, was the painful truth that many rescue fire and EMT crews are not properly trained to handle such emergencies on the farm. One neighbor, commenting later, said, "Why doesn't Purdue train these people?"

The truth is Purdue University's Bill Field and his staff have trained hundred of these workers over the past two decades. But many of those responding today to such calls all over the state don't remember such training. That's because most of them weren't there back then.

There was a big push for training about 12-15 years ago, Field notes. Certain agencies made funding available for the training. Traveling and training EMT and other rescue workers is not a cheap proposition, he notes.

"There are some 700 response groups in the state, and many want training at their facility," he says. "That's very difficult if not impossible to do."

The bigger issue, Field notes, is that there's roughly a 30% annual turnover in employees in some of these positions. So it's no wonder current first responders don't remember such training - they likely weren't on the job when it occurred. Many of those who were have since either retired or left for another profession.

The Purdue University Extension ag engineer and farm safety specialist has taken dozens of requests for training since the latest grain bin tragedy, which drew intense statewide coverage and put grain bin safety foremost on people's minds, he notes. But without funding for personnel to do the training, it's a huge challenge. "We're going to do as many as we can, but we can't be everywhere," Field says.

Part of the problem, especially with professional, paid crews that tend to have fewer people with any farm experience, is that they're not familiar with hazards or lack of hazards when they respond, Field notes. In the most recent case, some of the first responders demanded farmers on the scene stop trying to cut holes in the bin with a torch, fearing an explosion, like might happen due to dust in a large grain elevator.

"Others just don't understand how grain bins unload," Field says. Flow typically comes down the center in a ring-shape not too much wider than the opening at the bottom of the bin, with corn feeding of the top of the pile, flowing down into the auger well. "Some of them think it unloads like a big plug, with the bottom coming out first. That's just not so."

It's difficult to deal rationally with what you don't understand, Field notes. The answer is education, but it's an uphill battle. Sometimes groups schedule and promote training, only to have no one show up.

That happened to Field recently, but it's not likely to happen again soon in the aftermath of this tragedy.

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