Pittsburg Fire Battalion Chief Jeff Kavanagh said he hopes firefighters never have to respond to a situation where a person is partially engulfed in grain. But it's a scenario that played out just a few years ago in the county.
In Feb. 2011, an Erie man got his leg caught in the operating auger of a grain storage building in Walnut. It took a rescue team of firefighters several hours to get the man out of the bin.
The man was flown to a Kansas City hospital with "minor, but disabling injuries."
With just that sort of incident as background, local crews spent a day practicing grain engulfment rescue techniques thanks to a visit from the Kansas Fire and Rescue Training Institute's mobile trailer.
The trailer can simultaneousy simulate two diff erent types of rescue from grain engulfment scenarios.
Ed Morrison, technical rescue program manager with the Kansas Fire and Rescue Training Institute, said that grain engulfment is trickier than just reaching in and pulling someone out.
"Some of the grains can act like quicksand, especially any that are used to produce oil. Any those with flax, and you'll just sink right into it," Morrison said. "Around here, we have wheat and corn primarily. We practiced on wheat today. It can take 1,200 lbs. of force to pull someone out if they're up to their chest. You can't just hook a rope around someone and drag them out. If you do, you might pull an arm out of joint or worse."
Members of Kansas Task Force Four, as well as local grain elevator employees, went through the exercise on Tuesday, including many volunteering to be buried up to their chest in wheat in either the cone-shaped simulation or the grain bin simulation.
Classroom work took the entire morning, but realworld exercises were used in the afternoon.
Morrison said that rescuers must first determine if there is a partial engulfment or a full engulfment by grain, because that can make an incredible difference.
"About 92 percent of victims do not survive if they are fully engulfed," Morrison said.
Those surviving but still trapped could suff er from suff ocation (from dust), fall injuries, crush injuries, and both compartment syndrome and crush syndrome.
A fear from the syndromes is that blood pools and clots, and that when a person is released, it could cause a stroke or heart attack up to 72 hours later.
The process to remove a partially engulfed victim, in the hopes that the victim is vertical, would be to create a cofferdam of sorts around the victim, then to use a vacuum to remove grain to help free the victim.
"It's not going to be fast. It's going to be slow and steady to get them out," Morrison said.
The training also discussed cutting open the side of a bin or elevator, if necessary, to retrieve a body or to rescue a survivor.
Kavanagh said the training is a necessary skill to have.
"It's very useful. We have to be prepared for any incident that we're called on," Kavanagh said. "Though it's something you might only see once in a career, it's important. In our area, it's probably going to be a rare thing, but there are cities with large grain elevators - Girard, the western cities - deal with this quite a bit, I'm sure."