Training, equipment and teamwork save youth from grain entrapment

Grain entrapment is a growing concern on farms and in grain-handling facilities. Grain entrapment happens quickly and is often fatal. That’s where the Canadian Agricultural Safety Association’s (CASA) BeGrainSafe program comes in. BeGrainSafe works to save lives through awareness and training. On November 4, 2019, grain rescue training and knowledge, the proper equipment and teamwork all combined to save the life of a 14-year-old girl trapped in corn.

It was just a regular fall day in the municipality of Leamington, Ontario, when the call for emergency services came in. Leamington, the “Tomato Capital of Canada,” nestled along Lake Erie, is an agricultural, manufacturing and tourism hub. Although known for its greenhouses and tomatoes, farmers also produce crops like corn and soybeans that contribute to the overall diversity of Leamington’s agricultural industry. It was on one of these diverse operations that a young teenager entered a gravity wagon filled with corn and quickly became entrapped.

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Mike Ciacelli, Leamington’s deputy fire chief, describes the call. “It was approximately 4 p.m. when a call for firefighter services came in. There had been an incident involving a gravity wagon and a young teenager,” explains Ciacelli. “She had been watching the corn unloading when she went in. As soon as she screamed, her family and the other workers knew she was in trouble.”

Jumping into action, the people on site stopped the flowing corn and immediately called 911.

Ciacelli says that when Leamington’s Fire Services got the call, he immediately thought of his colleague, fire inspector Derrick Clark. Clark had just attended CASA’s BeGrainSafe Firefighter Grain Rescue Training Course. “I called Derrick immediately,” recalls Ciacelli. “I knew he had taken the BeGrainSafe training, so I wanted his advice.”

“I was harvesting corn at the time when Mike called,” says Clark. “And I knew that the best bet for a successful rescue was to secure the proper equipment to get her out safely.”

When Ciacelli arrived on the scene, the girl was mostly under the corn. “All I could see were her eyes, her nose, and the tip of one of her elbows popping out of the corn.” On site were paramedics and police. Someone suggested opening the door to get the corn moving again. However, after talking with Clark, Ciacelli knew this wasn’t an option.

“She was stable. EMS had managed to get her an airway, she was conscious, and a family member was pushing corn away from her face, so I knew we had the time to get the proper equipment there.”

A call went to the Kingsville Fire Department, (one of Leamington Fire Services’ mutual aid partners in Essex county) to ask for their silo kit. “They’ve had this kit for 10 or 12 years, and they’ve never used it in a live scenario,” says Ciacelli.

Firefighters use small pails to remove the corn from around the trapped girl.
photo: Supplied

In the meantime, Clark suggested that while waiting for the silo kit to arrive, Leamington firefighters start to build a temporary cofferdam around the girl using what they had on hand to keep any more corn from flowing in on her.

“We started pulling boards and even old honey and fruit stand signs to use,” remembers Ciacelli.

When Kingsville Fire Department’s technical rescue team arrived with the silo kit, they started building a cofferdam with their panels around her. “She was up against the side of the grain cart,” says Ciacelli. “They could only do a half-moon shape around her. Because of the bars in the grain cart, the cofferdam panels weren’t exactly lining up. We ended up using the boards and signs to help fill the gaps.”

The Leamington fire department used its aerial truck to light up the scene, and firefighters used small pails to remove the corn from around the girl. “All in all, 24 firefighters, four police officers, and two paramedics attended the scene. It was quite the light show,” says Ciacelli.

After approximately 45 minutes, firefighters removed enough corn to pull the girl out safely. “I was amazed,” says Ciacelli. “She climbed down the ladder on her own. She went to the hospital, but she was fine. It was a good day.”

Ciacelli and Clark credit the proper equipment, teamwork, and training for the rescue. “I hope that more firefighters in our area can get this training,” says Ciacelli. “I was happy to be able to call Derrick for his advice. As a command officer, I’ll take advice from someone smarter, with more knowledge than I have.”

“The training taught me how quickly grain entrapment happens,” explains Clark. “Remaining calm, shutting down the equipment, and getting the rescue equipment can make all the difference.”

For more information about the Canadian Agricultural Safety Association’s BeGrainSafe program, visit casa-acsa.ca/begrainsafe.

About the author

Contributor

As a national, non-profit organization, the Canadian Agricultural Safety Association (CASA) promotes farm safety in the agricultural sector.

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