HIGHLAND — Sixteen members of the Highland Fire Department received free grain bin rescue training Oct. 8 after entering to win a grain rescue tube from Corteva Agriscience. This strictly volunteer fire department that services the village and town of Highland in Iowa County was just one of 20 departments in rural communities across the U.S. that received a donation of this potentially life-saving equipment from the agribusiness this year.
Highland fire chief Tom Michek said one of his firemen, who also farms outside of town, first told him about entering the sweepstakes to win free grain rescue equipment. The beef and grain farmer went ahead and applied on behalf of the department, learning this summer that they had been selected to receive the equipment and training.
Michek has been with the department for 30 years and has had some grain bin rescue training in the past, but having another training session, led by a representative of the National Education Center for Agricultural Safety, allowed newer firefighters to the department an opportunity to also receive training.
“We have a lot of guys on the roster now that weren’t on the fire department last time we trained,” he said. “We’ve had a great influx of young guys, which has really been a plus for us.”
The roster contains 36 active firefighters and the Highland EMS team includes 29 members, with some cross-over between the two services, Michek said. They’re commonly called out for car accidents, structure fires and rescues, often times working in cooperation with the Iowa County Tech Rescue Team.
“It’s important for us to have the equipment and training just given the fact that there are a lot of (grain) bins going up on personal property. At harvest time, they are choosing to use their own bins,” Michek said. “We’re seeing a lot popping up in the fire district and often times, there’s only one or two people around when these bins are being operated.”
He added that after the department received word they won the equipment, they became especially aware of all the grain bins on farms in the area. And while many bins are being constructed new, Michek is also seeing farmers using old bins, fixing them up and reusing them on their farms, which can come with its own hazards.
“Unfortunately, this is where people get in trouble,” said Brad Kruse, a representative of the National Education Center for Agricultural Safety. “It’s why we train fire departments so they can hopefully get them out before it’s too late.”
Kruse was assigned to train the Highland firefighters, driving his grain bin rescue trailer to town and offering about three hours of training to the department. The National Education Center for Agricultural Safety training trailer has been in 32 states, with Kruse recently traveling with the trailer to Wisconsin, Illinois, Iowa and Minnesota.
After about an hour and a half in a classroom setting, Kruse took the firefighters outside the station for more hands-on training with the donated grain rescue tube. The grain tube is made of six panels that slide into place around the victim; once inserted, the tube halts the flow of grain and relieves the pressure on the trapped individual. The tube is valued at $2,600.
Later that evening under spotlights from a fire truck and extra lights pulled out from the fire station, Kruse walked members of the department through how to use the equipment, providing advice and tips for use along the way.
Michek couldn’t recall if the Highland Fire Department had ever been called out for a grain bin rescue, but just this August, Minnesota saw five deaths attributed to grain bins within a span of 30 days. News like this pushes Kruse to provide the best training so rural fire departments are prepared.
“The training was great and well-ran,” Michek said. “We gained a ton of information and the guys were excited to be there.”