Seth Scanlan, plant manager at the Consolidated Grain and Barge’s Ferris elevator facility, shows off a grain tube similar to the one used to rescue a 25-year-old man who became trapped in corn in a bin in nearby Basco, Ill. Since the incident, Scanlan has made it a mission to get the word out about safe grain handling procedures and the need for grain rescue tubes and grain rescue training for first responders.
Seth Scanlan, plant manager at the Consolidated Grain and Barge’s Ferris elevator facility, shows off a grain tube similar to the one used to rescue a 25-year-old man who became trapped in corn in a bin in nearby Basco, Ill. Since the incident, Scanlan has made it a mission to get the word out about safe grain handling procedures and the need for grain rescue tubes and grain rescue training for first responders.

FERRIS, Ill. — Months after he was part of the rescue of a young man trapped up to his chin in grain, Seth Scanlan still can recite the events of that day minute by minute.

“I got the call at 1:30 p.m.,” said the plant manager of the Consolidated Grain and Barge elevator in Ferris.

The call was from the 911 dispatcher. The dispatcher told Scanlan that a young man working in a bin in rural Basco, just a few miles from the Ferris elevator, was trapped up to his chin in grain.

The dispatcher was calling Scanlan because the elevator had a rescue tube, a four-paneled tube that is inserted into grain around a victim to prevent more grain from engulfing the victim and allow the victim to be extricated from the grain.

Normally, the tube would have been at Ferris. On that Friday, it was at the CGB facility in Nauvoo.

“It took 20 minutes for them to get it here from Nauvoo and another 10 minutes to get out to the farm,” Scanlan recalled.

When Scanlan and Gene McEntee of the CGB Colusa Group arrived at the farm, Scanlan found out the details. What happened is part of the message Scanlan now is passionate about getting out to farmers and those who work around grain handling facilities.

“Days prior to him being engulfed the center draw — and this happens nationwide, this is what we’re dealing with and what we want to get the message out about — the center draw plugged. It had a chunk over it,” Scanlan said.

“They had three intermediate holes, which most new bins do. The center draw plugged, the next hole in line plugged, then the next one plugged up, so they sent him in to go to the center draw with a piece of rebar and prod until it broke through.”

When the victim managed to unplug the center draw, the unload system was running.

“He knew he was in trouble. He tried to paddle his way out of it. He had his cell phone with him,” Scanlan said.

The victim reached a cousin who was working nearby.

“He got over there and shut it off just as the grain was at his chin. Another two seconds and he would have been done,” Scanlan noted.

He said another part of his message is that as bins are newer than those of 10, 15, 20 years ago so are the unload systems running within them.

“With everything faster these days, I’m guessing this was a 6,000-bushel-per-hour unload system — it’s a big difference from a four- or six-inch auger that we had years ago,” he said. “It’s not like what we were dealing with in the 1970s and 1980s when we had small bins.”

Scanlan said his purpose in talking about the Basco entrapment is not to criticize, but to use it as an example to spread the message about both grain handling safety and the need for training and rescue tubes for first responders.

When Scanlan and McEntee arrived on the scene and first responders told them the situation, Scanlan admitted he didn’t expect a happy outcome for the victim, who was to be married soon.

“The first thing that went through my mind when they told me how far he was engulfed was that it was going to be a recovery very shortly, not a rescue. That’s what my first thought was,” he said.

The victim’s age and health helped.

“They said it was a young kid, 25, and I thought that’s going to help out some,” Scanlan said.

Once inside the bin, Scanlan inserted the sections of the grain tube around the victim, who remained calm.

“The victim was calm and collected, he wasn’t hyperventilating or anything, but he was still scared,” he recalled.

The bin was a 78-foot bin and, according to Scanlan, held about 125,000 bushels of corn at the time of the accident.

Minutes matter in any emergency, and Scanlan remembered the timeframe.

“We pushed the grain tube down so he wouldn’t be engulfed any further. It took 10 to 15 minutes. It seemed like forever. Basically, we were looking at about 30 to 35 minutes by the time we started vacuuming the grain out from around him,” he said.

Scanlan knew how to use the grain tube and what to do after the tube was around the victim from training that was sponsored four years ago for farmers and local first responders.

“We had the rescue tube here because we had Stateline Farm Rescue come down and do a mock rescue at Ferris for farmers and the volunteer fire departments,” he said.

The victim, wearing a safety harness, was able to climb out of the bin on his own. He was transported to a local hospital for observation and released the next day. He married his fiancée, who was at the scene during the rescue, a week later.

Scanlan said the incident provides multiple lessons. One of the most important is being prepared, both for farmers, grain handling facilities and first responders.

“This had never happened, so they really didn’t know what to expect,” Scanlan said.

Preparation can be as simple as having ready access to items like a standard shop vac, a power cord to run to a power source separate from the bin where the victim is entrapped and a way to lock out the power panel to that bin.

“If you can plan for it, these little minute things, these little minor things, having stuff prepared, preparation is the main thing,” Scanlan said.

He also preaches the gospel of not entering bins containing grain.

“That’s the best policy to have because you’re not putting yourself or your employees in jeopardy,” he said.

When problems or blockages occur, Scanlan has an alternative to sending someone in to fix the problem.

“I would tell farmers the same thing I would tell my employees — if you’ve got a problem in your bin, you don’t enter that bin to address the problem,” he said.

“If you’re a farmer, call your local elevator and ask them: What are your alternatives if the center draw is plugged or another draw is plugged? What can we do to not endanger anybody and get that grain out? If you don’t know the answer, ask your local elevators.”

The rescue tube that was used at the scene in Basco will be donated to the Nauvoo Fire Department.

CGB is purchasing a tube that will be donated to the Carthage Fire Department, and the Hancock County Farm Bureau is raising funds to purchase two or three more tubes that will be donated to fire departments in Hancock County.

“We want to get the tubes to the fire departments because speed and the availability of that equipment is of the utmost importance in situations like this,” Scanlan said.

Along with the tubes, Scanlan said training in their use and in grain entrapment rescue is a must for first responders.

“I’ve told a lot of people, if they sold these tubes at Walmart you could go buy one off the shelf, but it’s not going to do any good unless you have the training,” he explained. “I think the best thing is for firefighters and first responders, for everybody, to go through that training. That way, they get the idea of what their victim is feeling.”

Scanlan also hopes to work with others to come up with a checklist for first responders of what’s needed at the scene of a grain bin accident, from a simple shop vac and extension cord to padlocks to lock out power to the bin where the victim is trapped.

Perhaps most important, he wants to try to change a mindset when it comes to working around grain and entering bins to solve issues.

“I think it’s got to do with the mindset that it’s never happened and it’s not going to happen to us, that type of deal,” he said. “Some people are still stuck in that mindset that I’ve done this all my life. The time it takes for that corn to consume a body is just seconds.”

The rescue tube used at the scene was purchased by the elevator about four years ago, in response to a nationwide wave of grain entrapments.

“We saw an outbreak of grain engulfments,” Scanlan said.

Information from the U.S. Department of Labor noted that in 2010 at least 26 people in the U.S. were killed in grain engulfments, the highest number of yearly grain fatalities on record.

That was the year of the July 28 tragedy in Mount Carroll, where two teenagers died after being engulfed in grain in a bin owned by Haasbach LLC. Two other teens survived.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the Grain and Feed Association of Illinois have formed an alliance to get the word out about preventing grain bin engulfment fatalities.

Scanlan said the incident at Basco, while it had a happy ending, made people realize that grain bin engulfments can happen anywhere to anyone.

“What we want to do is make everybody aware of how dangerous this is, how serious this situation could have been, and I think everybody who was out there realized that,” he said. “It woke some people up.”