As the former Dispatch Supervisor for the Pennington County Sheriff’s Office, I always looked ahead to the next season. Tornado season, blizzard season and grass fires were something for which we tried to prepare. Last fall, I knew there would be a deadly season, grain bin accidents.
Last fall and winter were wet, which meant late-planted crops were harvested at high moisture. When you store crops at 18 percent moisture or greater, you run the possibility of spoilage or frozen grain-both of which can leave large, hazardous masses inside a bin. These masses can fall in on a human who is trying to break them loose and crush or suffocate them.
Last week, we saw the story of Brandon Schaefer of Albany, Minnesota. Schaefer was inside a grain bin and tried to loosen up some frozen corn. The corn broke loose, Schaefer fell through and was covered by freezing corn. The local fire department recovered him, but he later passed away at the Paynesville hospital.
Nationwide Insurance reports an average of 20-25 people die nationwide in grain bin accident-typically when the crop falls in on a person who is trying to break up these large masses. In 2009, we had a wet fall nationally. According to agconfinedspaces.org, there were 59 grain bin entrapments reported that season which demonstrates the danger of storage after a wet fall.
Grain bin accidents are just so predictable, they are also so preventable. I understand how it all happens, however. Most farmers work by themselves as much as possible because they don’t want to pay for excess labor and the labor may not be available in the first place. Checking grain bins seems like a one-man job so they throw a scoop shovel in the back of the truck and go check bins-some of which may be located remotely. Most of the stored grain is probably fine but there’s one bin that received a few loads that were rushed through the grain dryer. The farmer decides to auger some grain out and see how it is but notices the top layer isn’t going down. He tries to push a little from outside the bin. This doesn’t work so he crawls inside, the cavitated crust breaks, he falls in and is covered. The call to law enforcement in Albany came in as a search as the caller could not find their son. They suspected he might be in a bin and that is where he was eventually located.
25 nationwide deaths in grain bins each year. The death of these people typically affect more than just immediate family. These people are the energy of the rural areas in which they live. The December 21st silo accident that claimed the lives of Steve, Curt and Alex Boesl near Millerville, Minnesota was like this- Steve and Curt Boesl were volunteer firemen. Grain bin accidents ripple out from the farm where they occur and tear at the fabric of whole communities.