Tyler Vogt, a firefighter from the Forreston Fire Department, plays the role of victim, trapped in grain up to his chest, as part of a grain entrapment rescue training exercise on the Meier Farm in rural Ridott, Ill. Vogt was one of 60 firefighters and emergency medical services personnel who participated in a two-day training session taught by Stateline Farm Rescue, hosted by the Meier family on its farm and sponsored by the Stephenson County Farm Bureau. First responders learned rescue techniques for tractor rollovers, grain bin entrapments and PTO entanglements.
Tyler Vogt, a firefighter from the Forreston Fire Department, plays the role of victim, trapped in grain up to his chest, as part of a grain entrapment rescue training exercise on the Meier Farm in rural Ridott, Ill. Vogt was one of 60 firefighters and emergency medical services personnel who participated in a two-day training session taught by Stateline Farm Rescue, hosted by the Meier family on its farm and sponsored by the Stephenson County Farm Bureau. First responders learned rescue techniques for tractor rollovers, grain bin entrapments and PTO entanglements.
RIDOTT, Ill. — Tyler Vogt wouldn’t have been laughing and joking as bushels of corn engulfed him up to his chest. Those trying to save him wouldn’t have had a break while torrential rains rolled through the area.

The firefighter cutting a V-shaped opening in the side of a 150,000-bushel grain bin wouldn’t have had time to stop for explanations of what he was doing.

Four-year-old Matt Busker, who, along with his mom, Jen, and sisters, Magen, Rachel and Abby, watched the goings-on via a big screen TV, likely would have known the person trapped up to his armpits in a bin full of corn.

One of the farm owners was driving home from a weekend with friends when she saw -– via photos posted on social media — an ambulance parked in front of one of the farm’s grain bins as firefighters in full gear swarmed around the bin.

“Seeing photos of firemen, ambulances & rescue helicopters at our farm made my heart skip a beat,” she later wrote on her Facebook page.

Since this was a training day at the rural Ridott dairy, grain and hay farm owned and operated by the Meier family, little Matt didn’t know Tyler Vogt, a firefighter with the Forreston Fire Department.

The first responders who were learning how to save farmers and farm workers from various situations could take a break as a thunderstorm rolled through.

Kimberly Meier knew, even as the photos gave her a shock, that the emergency equipment was there for training purposes as were the Lifeline rescue helicopter from OSF St. Anthony Medical Center in Rockford, as well as the REACT helicopter from Rockford Memorial Hospital, also in Rockford.

This was a training day for area fire departments, hosted by the Meier Farm and sponsored by the Stephenson County Farm Bureau and taught by Stateline Farm Rescue.

The atmosphere was light-hearted, but the 60 firefighters and EMS from more than half a dozen area fire departments were serious when it came to learning about grain bin entrapment rescues and tractor rollover rescues.

“There’s no farmer who ever gets out of bed in the morning and makes a conscious decision to do something that would injure him or cost him his life. It’s an accident, and that’s what they are,” said Mark Baker, founder and coordinator of Stateline Farm Rescue, based in Orangeville.

“I wish all the fire departments would get this training,” said Idamae Meier, one of the farm partners, as she watched firefighters and EMS take turns in a simulator as one “victim” was buried up to the chest in corn and then others were taught to use a grain tube in the rescue.

Baker said the training is vital as more and more volunteer and rural fire departments have fewer volunteers who come from farm backgrounds.

“What we’re seeing as a trend in the fire service and the EMS service is that there are getting to be fewer and fewer farmers and farm family members getting involved with local volunteer fire departments. A lot of it is that there is so much to do on the farm so there is less time to give as a volunteer. Our jobs as farmers are becoming more and more demanding,” said Baker, who is a dairy and grain farmer in rural Orangeville.

Baker said the two-day session gives students a thorough education on what they will be faced with at the scene of a farm accident.

“Saturday’s class was tractor rollover. They did four different types of rollovers, so students went through all that. Today was grain entrapment and auger entanglement, so they went through all that. They cut on the grain bin sheets also. That way, the students get a hands-on knowledge of what they’re going to be faced with. They learned about the different types of structures that are out there, the different types of bins that are farms and in commercial settings,” he said.

“There’s a lot of live hands-on training and the opportunity for these students to actually be in the grain and around the grain in a controlled environment is very important.”

Temperatures in the mid-80s and high humidity contributed to the training as emergency medical personnel not only learned about rescuing and caring for victims of farm accidents, but about keeping the rescuers safe on the scene.

“Some of the students were wondering why we can’t have better weather or be in a building to do this, but the weather and conditions really bring the reality to the hands-on portion. They understand how fast you can become dehydrated and how fast heat can overcome you,” the coordinator said.

Baker, who started Stateline some 20 years ago, said the training starts at a basic level.

“We don’t want to talk over anyone’s head. We don’t want to assume anyone has more or less information. We base it on that, and we build on that. We’re finding that firefighters in today’s world don’t understand the dramatics of a tractor rollover or what a PTO is or what an auger does. We see that the education of what we do on the farm is needed more now than it ever has been,” he said.

Despite the teasing and joking that went on, when it came to actual training for the grain entrapment, students were trained in two separate stations. In one station, they learned how to safely cut V-shaped vents in the bottom of a bin to vent grain out of the bin, and in the simulator, a victim was buried to the chest as others learned the procedure for safely getting to their victim and then the use of a grain tube for rescuing that victim.

“The students are very enthused and very receptive to the information we’re giving them. They want to know. There’s a willingness to learn this and a desire to know what’s going on. Plus, they are volunteers. They’re giving up a whole weekend to be here,” Baker said.

Some of the students and instructors, including Baker, also were dealing with loss. Between the sessions on Saturday and Sunday, many attended a memorial service for Richard “Rich” Nowland, who died unexpectedly on June 17. Nowland was Rockford lead pilot for OSF Aviation and the OSF Lifeline helicopter.

The specter of a grain bin entrapment wasn’t far away from the minds of some of those participating.

On July 28, 2010, two teenagers, Wyatt Whitebread, 14, and Alejandro “Alex” Pacas, 19, died after becoming trapped in a Mount Carroll grain bin owned by Haasbach LLC. Two others who were trapped were rescued and survived.

Baker participated in the rescue and recovery in Mount Carroll, and at least one of the firefighters attending also was on the scene that day.

On April 26, 2013, a 25-year-old man survived being trapped up to his chin in grain in an on-farm bin in rural Basco. On May 1, 2013, a 64-year-old man in rural Jacksonville survived being trapped up to his chest in grain in a bin.

“I think we need to remember that ‘what if’ could happen. When it does happen, are you prepared for that event? There’s no call that’s worse to go to than the one you’re not prepared for,” Baker said.

“It’s the scariest thing ever for a firefighter or an EMT or paramedic to walk onto a scene and not have a clue or not be trained in that particular rescue, whether it’s a tractor rollover or a grain entrapment or a PTO entanglement.”