Grain rescue tubes can save lives

WINTHROP – Fire and Rescue team members from New Ulm, Fairfax, Brownton and Arlington paid particular attention to grain rescue tube training Tuesday at the United Farmers Cooperative (UFC).

“Thanks for coming out and doing the important work you do,” UFC Winthrop Corporate Office General Manager Jeff Nielsen said to the group. “From Jan. 1 to March 11, 2014, there were eight grain entrapment mishaps in the Upper Midwest and two Minnesota deaths. We thought that donating 20 grain rescue tubes to area fire departments is a great way to give back to area communities. It’s a pretty significant investment, and we’re happy to do it.”

Dale Ekdahl of Outstate Data, LLC of Elbow Lake said he was working as a safety consultant when two people died from grain bin mishaps over a short period of time in Grant County.

“Firefighters told me they were interested in getting new (grain entrapment) rescue equipment so I made prototypes (models) using their ideas,” Ekdahl said. “When grain is wet, it sticks and clumps, making it especially dangerous to work with. UFC became very proactive for its employees and customers by buying grain rescue tubes. I’m very happy to be a part of this. We’re in the business of saving lives.”

Ekdahl climbed on top of a grain bin accident trainer owned by Safety & Security Consultation Specialists of Minnesota Lake. The trainer contained a bin full of 205 bushels of tiny, round recycled pieces of plastic detergent containers.

Fairfax Fire and Rescue Chief James J. Schroeder volunteered to be the first victim. He stepped into the bin and slowly began sinking into the tiny pieces of plastic which simulated grain.

“You try pushing the grain away from yourself as you sink into it and it comes right back at you,” Ekdahl said. “Bigger bins mean bigger problems. It takes a coordinated effort by several men to lower the rescue tubes around a sinking worker, stabilizing him, then helping him bale himself out of the tube as he climbs out of it. We’re using 10-quart, plastic buckets to bale him out.”

Wabasso native Roger Price, business development services director at Land O’Lakes, Inc. of Shoreview and a UFC business consultant, said farmers are using bigger and bigger equipment that operates at higher speeds making the grain rescue tubes more and more valuable.

“There’s less room for error nowadays,” Price said. “Eventually, somebody’s life will be saved by one of these rescue tubes.”

Suffocation is the leading cause of death in grain storage bins. In 2010, Minnesota was second only to Illinois in the number of fatal and non-fatal entrapment incidents, according to Purdue University research cited in the U.S. Department of Labor & Industry Safety Hazard Alert.

From 1984 to 2012, there were 180 grain bins deaths in the United States; 11 occurred in Minnesota.

Grain stored in a grain bin may appear harmless, but it behaves similarly to quicksand, burying a worker in as little as 30 seconds. Getting out of a grain pile can be extremely difficult without assistance because of the weight and nature of the grain, according to OSHA.

Workers should not stand on moving or flowing grain; stand near or try to loosen grain packed on the side of a bin, which can collapse unexpectedly; or stand on or below a bridge of grain. Bridging occurs when grain clumps together due to moisture or mold, creating an empty space beneath the grain, which can collapse.

Grain that has started to spoil produces carbon dioxide and other hazardous gases. As the gas is generated, it collects on the grain surface, displacing oxygen. A worker entering the bin can be quickly overcome by toxic gases and die or suffer serious injury.

For more information, visit or call 1-877-470-6742.

(Fritz Busch can be e-mailed at

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